Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Clinton Has to Prove Something to Voters

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Clinton Has to Prove Something to Voters

Article excerpt

BILL CLINTON won't take office for a month yet, and the story of his presidency is, of course, entirely unwritten. But his dozen years as governor of Arkansas, his year in the national spotlight as a presidential candidate, and now his first steps in preparing for his new administration give us many clues concerning the course he's likely to follow.

One thing can be said with certainty about his prospects: They are not reduced by the fact that he won with only 43 percent of the popular vote, the smallest proportion since Woodrow Wilson took office with 42 percent in 1912. Mr. Clinton's standing will be determined by how Americans see him performing as president, and most Americans genuinely want him to do well.

Still, his experience in a year of all-out campaigning points to one area of concern about his prospects. At no point did he succeed in dispelling widespread doubts about his suitability, in certain personal regards, for the office. For example, the big election-day poll taken by Voter Research and Surveys (VRS) asked voters: "If Bill Clinton wins today, what best describes your feelings about what he will do as president?" Only 41 percent picked one of the two positive assessments: Fifteen percent said they would be "excited," 26 percent "optimistic." Against that 41 percent, 57 percent said they would be "concerned" (27 percent) or "scared" (30 percent). Seventy-eight percent of Ross Perot's backers said a Clinton victory would leave them concerned or scared; 17 percent of Clinton's own supporters felt that way.

I'm not arguing that Bill Clinton takes office with a dark cloud hanging over him. The concern, rather, is that the same things that raised doubts about him among many voters during the campaign will continue to trouble his presidency. Poll data makes evident that it wasn't things he did, or allegedly did, in the past that caused Clinton to have a "character" problem so much as how he responded. For example, it wasn't what he did with regard to the draft in the 1960s, but rather that, when the issue arose during the campaign, he failed to deal with it forthrightly. …

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