Actions speak louder than sound bites, Clinton says Jabs at Perot reveal frustration

May 31, 1992|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,Staff Writer

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Gov. Bill Clinton was speaking at length -- which he usually does -- about President Bush's shortcomings as the self-styled "education president." The country, Mr. Clinton said at a noontime rally, can't afford four more years of such neglect.

Nor does it need, he said, talk "which often sounds good with no plan or action to back it up."

He went on: "We've established that I'm a lousy sound-bite politician. But I'll tell you one thing. I get things done, and if you want somebody to do instead of talk, you ought to vote for me for president."

Mr. Clinton did not name the target of his cracks about sound bites -- the brief, catchy quotes of politicians that are used in television news. But Mr. Clinton didn't have to. The comments clearly were aimed at Texas billionaire Ross Perot, who has been "saying things that sound good" while offering little in the way of a specific agenda for action.

The observation underscored the frustration that Mr. Clinton faces as he winds up a successful primary season -- certain to clinch the Democratic nomination Tuesday as California and five other states hold primaries, but plagued by the Perot phenomenon, which is crowding him out of the spotlight.

Mr. Clinton needs less than 200 of the 700 delegates at stake Tuesday to reach the 2,145 that will give him a majority, and he could get that many in California alone from the 348 being chosen here. It should be a time of rejoicing after surviving a winter and spring of political body blows that might have tumbled a less tenacious candidate.

But the sudden eclipsing by Mr. Perot of what otherwise would be Mr. Clinton's time in the sun, forces the Arkansas governor into yet another survival test. As polls show him running third behind Mr. Perot and Mr. Bush in California and many other states, Mr. Clinton must battle anew to gain the public's ear for an agenda that provides all the details for action that Mr. Perot's generalized comments lack.

Mr. Clinton spoke of Mr. Perot and his own frustrations in interviews with The Sun and on two radio shows the last few days as he toured California. Mr. Perot's emergence, he told The Sun, "really doesn't surprise me. The disillusionment with the two parties has been profound and deep for some time now," he said.

Mr. Clinton said that Mr. Perot's ability to finance his own campaign was not the whole story of the phenomenon, but gives him "staying power." He went on: "The fact that he has a name; he's a good politician; his sound bites are good; he's tapping into that resentment that people feel against lobbyists and interest groups and the failure of the two parties in Washington -- all that sort of stuff."

Being able to end-run the primary elections is an advantage, too, Mr. Clinton said. Because of the way the nomination process unfolds, the political aspects, not issues, dominate press coverage, he said. "The real voters don't care about all the political angles. And the more political the coverage is, the more the people dislike the people involved," the governor said.

In one of the radio interviews, Mr. Clinton lamented how Mr. Perot, as a non-politician who never ran in the primaries, could say, "I hate politics, I'm not a part of any of this," when "most of what he says is stuff I've been saying for seven months about things I've been doing, not just talking about, for 10 years."

Mr. Clinton insisted that he didn't have any criticism about what Mr. Perot says. "I'm just saying it's frustrating for me to be covered only as a political animal and for . . . people to be saying [things] that sound great [that] I said back in October . . . or that I said two or three years ago in criticizing the direction of politics in Washington," he said.

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