Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Clinton on Clinton's First Year: It's Tough to Reach the Public

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Clinton on Clinton's First Year: It's Tough to Reach the Public

Article excerpt

LOOKING back over his first year as president, Bill Clinton registers surprise at the difficulty of using his bully pulpit to reach the public.

In a wide-ranging conversation Wednesday, Mr. Clinton discussed his views and observations at a Christian Science Monitor luncheon attended by about 50 Washington bureau chiefs and national columnists.

He recounted his greatest frustrations and delights in office:

* He sees a recent sea change in attitudes about guns and the need for strong measures to keep them off the streets.

* He sees a modern culture of politics and news coverage that no longer allows for political honeymoons or high approval ratings for politicians.

* He suggests that a generation from now one of the major achievements of our time will be his national-service program for college aid, which passed last summer and "practically no one knows about."

Clinton noted with some surprise how a speech he made on crime in the black community a few weeks ago in Memphis "broke through" and made a public impact. "I'd been saying those things for years," he said.

Yet he also noted - to his frustration - that when his economic plan passed Congress in August, two-thirds of Americans believed incorrectly that it would raise income taxes on the middle class.

"That was extremely surprising to me. I thought that if we said something and it was so, and we said it often enough, it would be heard."

Clinton said that his greatest delights during the year were those moments when he could improve people's lives. He recalled gathering wheelchair-bound former Reagan press secretary James Brady and the widow of a South Carolina police officer in the White House for the signing of the "Brady bill" requiring a five-day waiting period and background checks for handgun sales. The same morning, the Washington Post carried a story on tens of thousands of gun sales to felons and others stopped by similar state laws.

"And I realized this was actually going to change people's lives," he said.

He recalled the visit to the White House of the father of a seriously ill girl who told the president that he feared his daughter would not live. But Clinton's Family and Medical Leave Act allowed the man to take time off without losing his job - "the most precious time I've ever spent in my life," Clinton said the father told him.

The man added, said Clinton: "So don't you ever think it doesn't make a difference what you do."

THE president's mind seems to be much on crime and gun control these days, and he sees a nation ready to take more extraordinary measures to stymie violence.

He noted that if an amendment to the Senate crime bill proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California had already been law, then the man who mowed down passengers rapid-fire on the Long Island Rail Road commuter train Tuesday night would not have killed and injured so many people. …

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