Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Americans Say They Want Improvements, but They May Fear Change More

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Americans Say They Want Improvements, but They May Fear Change More

Article excerpt

It was one of those impenetrable, sagging summer afternoons when the weather forecast suggests that everybody take a day off from breathing. The president, looking much the worse for wear, had finished a speech to the National Governors' Association, and came to talk with a group from The Boston Globe.

He had run the gantlet of the traveling Washington press corps who were in various stages of high spirits having arrived unanimously - and therefore comfortably - at their lead for the next day. The headlines would claim that President Bill Clinton had backed away from universal health-care coverage - Gotcha! When he denied it, the next stories would say that he had backed away from his backing away.

But in the midst of this mini-flap, I scratched a different impression into my notebook. In conversation, the president had compared himself rather wearily to Truman, "He just wore people out, kind of like I do," said Clinton. "Part of his job was making people do what they didn't want to do."

Is this what the president thought? It occurred to me that the man who had run and won on a platform of change, believed that one of things people "didn't want to do" was change.

Maybe he believed that when push came to shove, when the ideas of change came down to the policies, average folk wound up more worried about the unknown than the known. That there were lots of people who didn't want to upset the apple cart even when the boards on the bottom of the cart were broken and the apples were dropping to the ground one by one.

I thought of that moment last week as the health-care debate erupted on the Senate floor over watered-down employer mandates and might-be filibusters. This president, this administration, has worked too hard for too little. The political physics are out of whack. More energy is being used to go shorter distances.

Health-care reform bills. Welfare reform bills. Crime bills. The past two administrations didn't do much more than patch and postpone. This one deserves - and rarely gets - credit for wrestling with the Big Ones.

But from the very beginning, the administration has been saddled with subliminal skepticism about the country's willingness to change, a skepticism honed during the Reagan years, sharpened in Arkansas. …

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