Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Stand by Your Woman

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Stand by Your Woman

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT Clinton might just as well go for it: Take a simple-to-grasp program, a dollar of tax hikes plus a dollar of spending cuts for a two-dollar turnaround on the deficit; add some $30 billion in social spending and call it "stimulus"; sell the program hard.

Reelection is not the goal.

Why fear a one-term presidency?

This is the case for the activist Clinton White House we are beginning to see. Clinton sidled through the transition, fumbled on the attorney general, only to resume the energy level of his election campaign.

There's a lot we don't know yet about the new president. Campaigning and policy nerding may be his two basic gears. If they are, he should go with them. It is too early to start reining in his instincts. Rep. Bob Michel, the House minority leader, found out the country did not like his rebuttal to Clinton's State of the Union speech. That rebuttal was too partisan and ineffectual, and Michel admits he was embarrassed by it. (The rebuttal custom should be dropped anyway: Let the president simply have his say.)

Now, the case just presented has its problems. I think we are taking what political scientists call "plebiscitory democracy" a little too far.

The plebiscite action is that of talk-show chats, televised town halls, the appeals for telephone responses to Congress and the White House. We're not a telephone democracy. We've had an election. When does the representative side of our process kick in?

The Brookings Institution's Tom Mann, one of the very best observers of our political scene, argues the other direction. The plebiscitory pressures reflected in talk-show call-ins give people the feeling they have an input in public affairs, Mann says.

Presidents constantly have to speak to the public to get things done. They cannot separate campaigning from governing. In a world where big government and big interest groups are lobbying the public, stage-managing telephone assaults, and doing whatever they can to stop him, a president has to play the same game. In Clinton's case as in Ronald Reagan's, the public sell seems to come naturally.

Will the public tire of budget talk? Many citizens would by now be willing to write a check for $200 if the politicians promised not to say any more about energy taxes. …

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