Six things to like about Bill Clinton More than the Democratic survivor

A. M. Rosenthal

July 15, 1992|By A. M. Rosenthal

New York -- IN CONVENTION assembled, let us now join in hope that press and politicians will drop this baby boomer business about Gov. Bill Clinton and Sen. Al Gore.

The label makes two sophisticated and experienced politicians sound as if there were something different, something coltish, about them that separates them from Americans who were born before World War II.

The truth is that Governor Clinton has managed to compile a political record of maturity in this campaign that so far has eluded both his elder competitors. He did so not because of his years or despite them but because in politics he was born grown up. So was Al Gore.

I am avoiding deciding about my own vote as long as I can. I find it makes politics and journalism more interesting -- you listen harder to everybody and watch more intently.

So, listening and watching, it seems to me that Bill Clinton has done what President Bush and Ross Perot have not so far been able to do. There's a good chance that he has also managed to destroy the big Republican weapon against him. See No. 6, but not yet.

1. He's taken the dirt flung at him, wiped it off his face and stood like a grown, if you will forgive the word, man. Sometimes he surrendered to the cherished constitutional right of Americans to blame the press. But mostly he and his wife accepted responsibility for their own lives.

That could mean a lot. It could mean that as president he would not blame somebody else for every failure as George Bush constantly blames Congress. The governor of Arkansas has shown that he is not Slick Willie but Classy Bill Clinton.

2. In his speeches and his demeanor he has shown a warm-hearted respect for the one great yearning of Americans. It is not so much for change, but for return -- return to the conviction that their country is capable of giving them political freedom, economic betterment, physical safety and racial dignity, all.

That is Ross Perot's strength too. But he has not presented a program that showed he could put his brain where his mouth is.

Mr. Perot has given zest to American politics by giving choice. It would be a pity if he vanished into his own stubbornness.

3. Mr. Clinton lived up to his most important promise. He chose a vice-presidential candidate who could most certainly be president.

In fact, Mr. Gore may feel like kicking himself for not going for it this year. He will find company among his many New York admirers. Anyway, Mr. Clinton picked his equal, not his shadow.

4. He has fought against bigotry from wherever it came. That is the meaning of his stand against the racist mouthings of Sister Souljah, for those of all colors who detest bigots of all colors. The Republicans took a good stand on that, too, and so did Ed Rollins, the Perot adviser (although Mr. Perot waffled).

5. Governor Clinton refused to turn over the party or himself to those on the Democratic left. They have every right to struggle for dominance as long as they recognize his right to use his power to refuse it to them.

I have a hunch that if he is elected, a number of people may find his appointments and his entourage too leftish for our tastes. We can shout complaint and will. But he has not shown any tendency to suffocate the non-lefties in the party.

And now, 6. Instead of moving in only one direction, liberal or conservative, he shows gut understanding that most Americans are like diners in a Chinese restaurant. They tend to pick one dish from Column A and another from Column B. They do not want a one-taste ideological meal.

Ross Perot understands that, too. That is why some of the Republican pitchmen are shouting "liberal" at him. He is not terrified.

But it is the Democratic ticket that the Republicans hope to destroy by screaming "liberal" at it. As a liberal conservative and conservative liberal routinely labeled reactionary by the radical left, I find it equally brainless for the Republicans to rely on one all-encompassing word to try to demolish a ticket of two sophisticated menu-readers.

The other day a chieftain of the Republican campaign managed to do that four times in one sentence. Maybe he got a bonus. Maybe he is a mole. Either way he was downright hilarious. For a political party, comical is worse than brainless.

A.M. Rosenthal is a columnist for the New York Times.

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