Clinton The Activist: For Every Problem, A Government Plan

July 26, 1992|By JOHN FAIRHALL

LITTLE ROCK ARKANSAS — Little Rock, Arkansas -- To Americans starving for government action, Bill Clinton is promising the political equivalent of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

After being inaugurated in January, ''I intend to have an explosive 100-day action period,'' he has said. ''It will be the most productive period in modern history.''

While it may sound like hyperbole, Mr. Clinton's vow reflects his activist vision of government. From his earliest days in politics he has held a Kennedyesque faith in government's power to improve people's lives. And though the public doesn't believe in Camelot anymore, Mr. Clinton wants people to believe that government can be ''reinvented.''

Those who know him in Arkansas wouldn't be surprised if he entered the White House with a boxful of fresh legislation. He studies public-policy issues the way a baseball fan devours box scores. For every problem he has a plan; for every question he has an answer.

Mr. Clinton got an early edge on his Democratic primary opponents this year precisely because he seemed to be the most prepared to answer the question that has sometimes bedeviled candidates, ''Why do you want to be president?''

''I am running for president of the United States because I refuse to be part of a generation that celebrates the death of communism abroad by allowing the American dream to die at home,'' he wrote in his proposal for a ''New American Covenant'' between the people and their government.

He offers a vision of change based on the premise that America is on the wrong track and that government can help turn it around.

''Our country is in trouble. We're falling behind economically, and drifting apart with no sense of common purpose or common good. Our people are really hurting. For 10 years, the middle class has declined, poverty has exploded and only the rich are doing better,'' he said in a letter introducing his plan to voters last January.''

His plan has changed little since then.

In his words, it ''includes a tax cut for the middle class, and asks the rich to pay their fair share. It calls for health insurance for every American; dramatic education reform to help our children and our schools to do better; and a public and private investment strategy to create new jobs. And it calls for a revolution in government to provide more choices and more services with less bureaucracy.''

He also has proposed provid- ing college or vocational training loans to all who need them; welfare reform that requires recipients to go to work within two years; and legislation guaranteeing workers the right to take unpaid time off to deal with family illnesses and child raising.

Though he has aimed his campaign at the moderate political center of America, he has reached out to women, racial minorities and gays, pledging to name Supreme Court justices who will uphold abortion rights, appoint an administration 'that looks like America'' and lift a military ban on homosexuals.

On foreign-policy issues, he has criticized the Bush administration for its tolerance of Chinese human-rights abuses and for pressing Israel to stop settling occupied territory.

His reputation as the ''answer man'' of presidential politics this year has paid off in poll results showing voters think he has offered the most specific proposals. But it has also turned off some voters who see him as a bit too smooth, too slick.

What voters most want to know, of course, is whether President Clinton can keep the promises made by candidate Clinton. The clues provided by his 11-year record as governor of Arkansas suggest that he is a can-do leader on issues that matter most to him.

Education has been his top priority as governor and his major claim to bragging rights as a presidential candidate. Much has improved since Kern Alexander wrote a devastating critique of Arkansas public schools shortly before Mr. Clinton was first elected governor in 1978.

''From an educational standpoint, the average child in Arkansas would be much better off attending the public schools of almost any other state in the country,'' Mr. Alexander wrote in a University of Florida study requested by the Arkansas legislature.

Mr. Clinton didn't make much progress on education his first term; then he was defeated in 1980. But when he returned to power in 1983 he put his wife, Hillary, in charge of a committee to make recommendations. That fall, the governor pushed a package of reforms and increased funding through a special session of the legislature.

Tougher graduation requirements, smaller class sizes, and math and science courses -- which some schools hadn't offered -- became law. Other changes followed. Last year the legislature raised the sales tax again and funded more improvements, including a college scholarship program for students who earn a 2.5 grade point average and stay out of trouble. Teachers,

among the lowest-paid in the country, received big raises.

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