|Clinton's Parting Shots
by John M. Curtis
Copyright January 29, 2000
lenching his jaw and flexing his maseters, an intense president Clinton returned to the very chamber in which his impeachment was debated a little more than a year ago. Delivering his final State of the Union address to a conspicuously partisan joint session of congress, Clinton hit the audience with his best shotsa virtual howitzer of far-flung, utopian proposals, hoping to secure his place in history. "Let him promise everything to the worldits not something I take too seriously," said Rep. John Kasich (Rep-Ohio). Weighing in on Clintons speech, Republican front-runner George W. Bush remarked, "The litany of spending programs the president announced tonight proves my point that if you leave a large surplus in Washington, the money will be spent on big government." But Clintons real problem stems less from off-base proposals or bitter partisanship than lingering doubts about his credibility and moral authority.
With the impeachment hearings and Lewinsky sex scandal still on peoples minds, lecturing the congress about their complacency and inaction went over like a lead balloon. "You cant gain ground if youre standing still," said president Clinton, "For too long, this congress has been standing still on some of our most pressing national priorities." Blaming Republicans for the current gridlock, Clinton wasnt winning friends and influencing Republicans. While partisanship seems par for the course, todays acrimony and divisiveness stems directly from profound disappointments over Clintons personal behavior. But, even more to the point, the way in which he handled his mistakes, that is, his 'damage control.' Without offering a true mea culpa, Clinton placed his presidential legacy into jeopardy. Forgiveness and compassion were well within his reach. They begin with sincere apologies and making amendsnot spinning like a gyroscope.
Brilliant speech making starts with having a receptive audience. Reminiscent of last years scandal-plagued State of the Union message, Clintons most recent speech was jam-packed with distracting proposals, detouring far away from any mention or atonement for his past indiscretions. A simple, pedestrian apology would have gone along way in mending fences and advancing his agenda during his final year. Even the outcome of the vaunted Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty might have been different had president Clinton fessed up and said he was sorry. Admissionspartial or completesometimes cross a dangerous line between pushing beyond a crisis or creating a new one. In another 12 months we'll know whether Clintons reticence paid off, as prosecutors weigh their options.
For those who patiently waited [for contrition], they were sadly disappointed but not surprised. How can anyone really expect to be inspired by someone who blew so much smokeand got caught red-handed? Thats Clintons real problem. Not that his proposals are so wild, off-base or unrealisticfar-flung and a bit grandiose, yes. Few can deny that. As with last years performance, this years version conveyed more chest pounding than humility and gratitude. "Next month, America will achieve the longest economic expansion in our entire history," boasted Clinton, despite recent developments suggesting that the nations unstoppable economy is badly overheating. Wall Street knows what that meansand the stock market doesnt like the medicine.
With Greenspans new inflation indexthe GDP deflatorWall Streets mighty money machine might be cascading toward the falls. With vice president and presidential hopeful Al Gore praying that the economy doesnt head south, ominous cracks are beginning to appear. Far from the economy, Clintons biggest enemy continues to be himself. Neither bull markets nor Teflon last forever. No matter how much time was wasted defending the Clinton presidency, bombarding congress now with an avalanche of belated proposals doesnt make up for lost time. "If we enacted all of the new programs the president has talked about, wed spend just about the entire surplus on bigger and more expensive government," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill). Should the Federal Reserve continue to hike interest rates, all bets are off about the unending bull market and future budget surpluses.
Dismissing his conduct as commonplace or inconsequential doesnt erase the fact that many peoplein and out of governmentwere disgusted by his personal conduct. Few Democrats embraced Ronald Reagans social and fiscal policies, but most admired his high regard and dignity while serving in the Oval Office. When Reagan lectured congress about their extravagance, it was all done with mutual respect and good cheer. Clinton no longer enjoys that same luxury because his personal mistakes eclipse his authority to pass judgment. Leaders lose their ability to command once their own depravity or misdeeds are called into question. While the presidents job approval ratings remain high, his personal integrity marks have sunk to new lows. Ignoring these problems, Clinton continued to milk applause lines from his Democratic colleagues. "Clinton looked great and delivered a masterful speech but his message lacked coherency and an overall theme," said former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noohnan.
Throwing everything in but the kitchen sink, president Clinton once again proved his artistry at disguise and distraction. Education, family tax relief, crime and gun control, the economy, environment, health care and globalization are all very important issues. Without the respect and support of congressional colleagues, all the flowery rhetoric falls on deaf ears. Passing ambitious legislation is even more difficult. Taking his parting shots, president Clinton said a mouthful trying to prove himself secure his legacy. By sweeping his misdeeds under the table and pretending that he made amends, he missed a golden opportunity to advance his final years agenda. Can you really expect a new beginning with so much unfinished business?
About the Author
John M. Curtis is editor of OnlineColumnist.com. Hes also the director of a West Los Angeles think tank specializing in human behavior, health care and political research and media consultation. Hes a seminar trainer, columnist and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.
Home || Articles || Books || The Teflon Report || Reactions || About Discobolos
©1999-2000 Discobolos Consulting Services, Inc.