Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Clinton Gets Back on Political Track

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Clinton Gets Back on Political Track

Article excerpt

IT'S time to give President Clinton his first grades. With his year-in-office point on the near horizon, we give him an A for the way he hit the ground running in dealing with domestic problems. But we have to drop him down to a shaky C on his rather reluctant and changeable foreign-affairs performance. Those, of course, are the prime areas of presidential responsibility.

The president himself claims a "pretty good beginning" for his foreign-policy performance. But Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Carter's top foreign affairs adviser, says that Mr. Clinton has failed to fill a "foreign-policy vacuum" that he inherited. Mr. Brzezinski, talking to reporters at a Monitor breakfast, blamed Clinton's "failure to articulate" such a policy on "Clinton's preoccupation with domestic problems." Brzezinski's view reflects a growing criticism of Clinton among foreign-affairs experts.

As a political president, Clinton eludes any precise grading. He's been a dazzling salesman. Health-care reform couldn't have had better opening-day advocates: the president along with Hillary Rodham Clinton. Instinctively, Clinton is a superb politician. But he has made some mistakes. For example, he met recently with lobbyists and other influential high rollers at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's $1,500-a-plate fund-raising dinner, a gathering that was closed to the press. This was a reversal of a 12-year Reagan and Bush policy of openness for such affairs.

Of this closing of doors the New York Times, which has been hailing much of the Clinton legislative program, commented: "It's common knowledge that there is an unbroken chain between private fund-raising and special-interest legislation or regulatory favors from the White House."

Feeling the heat of such criticism, the White House reopened these gatherings to the media. But when was the last time Clinton forcefully went to bat for his campaign finance-reform legislation, which now seems to be going nowhere?

These are merely missteps. For the most part, the president's political dancing has been shrewd and beguiling. For example, there's his espousal of the North American Free Trade Agreement. …

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