Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Escape Artist in the White House

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Escape Artist in the White House

Article excerpt

The eminent historian, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., has just presided over the taking of a poll that is bound to catch President Clinton's eye: Thirty-two of the nation's leading historians have rated our nation's presidents over the years and have determined that, as of now, Mr. Clinton can be judged only "average."

The poll, carried out by The New York Times, has these findings:

Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt are at the top, rated "great." Jefferson, Jackson, Polk, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, and Truman come next with a "near great" rating. Pierce, Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Grant, Harding, Hoover, and Nixon are considered "failures" by the panel. On rating Clinton, Mr. Schlesinger reports that "some of the historians think it premature to judge; but two vote him Near Great and two more a Failure, and he ends up Average. The second term gives him his opportunity to move up - or down." Where Schlesinger really grabs my attention is when he predicts that there will be "storms ahead" for Clinton and then adds that the president has shown a resource for dealing with such adversity: "His Houdini-like agility in getting out of tight spots." If you think about it, Clinton, from the time he first ran for president, right on through his first term, has always been in one kind of a "tight spot" or another. And now, as Schlesinger points out, "Whitewater, Kenneth Starr, Paula Jones, and the Indonesian philanthropists lie in wait." I hadn't thought about that before. This president is, indeed, a political Houdini, a genius at getting out of jams. Apart from problems dealing with his personal behavior, Clinton also has shown his agility in wriggling out of political adversity. Remember how far down he was following the 1994 election? He was being called a "failed" president by his friends as well as his opponents. …

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