Bill Clinton's Honeymoon

November 13, 1992

In his first press conference as president-elect yesterday, Gov. Bill Clinton displayed the same composure and command of details that helped win him the presidency. Of course, he was doing the easy things -- taking steps or promising to take steps that require no or very little cooperation from Congress.

He promised to put together a "diverse" cabinet, as if a Democrat could do anything else. He also said he would end an abortion gag rule at federally funded clinics and provide Haitian "boat people" with asylum hearings. Executive orders can handle these tasks, and Governor Clinton was unequivocal in the campaign he would do just that.

His reiteration of his decision to issue an executive order ending the ban on homosexuals in the military may provoke more opposition, but he had made it clear during the campaign that he would do this. The military establishment will go along -- as it should and as it did when previous changes regarding the military role of women and blacks were made by presidents.

The president-elect will certainly get no flak for announcing that he will soon be imposing tough new ethical standards on members of his transition team and members of his administration. When he asks Congress for new laws dealing with lobbyists, as he said he would yesterday, he should win broad public support.

Many Americans believe, as Ross Perot stressed in the campaign, that "Washington" would work better if ex-executive branch officials didn't use their contacts to gain special advantage for special interests. Mr. Clinton's presumed intention deal with this so-called "revolving door" problem, by lengthening from one year to five years the period when an ex-official cannot lobby his old agencies, would certainly deal with that. But it may also create another problem, a reduction in the number of mid-career men and women willing to serve. One year is too short a waiting period, but five years is too long.

An unassailable idea is the governor's intention to force lobbyists and others representing special interests who deal with government officials to do so openly. Sen. Paul Douglas wrote 40 years ago, "Publicity or disclosure is a powerful deterrent from improper conduct. Most men go wrong because they believe they can commit shady acts in private which will not be found out."

Mr. Clinton said he hopes for the American people's sake that he will have a "honeymoon" with Congress so important business can be accomplished. New presidents generally have a honeymoon before the hard part of the job starts. The president-elect suggested yesterday he knows this. He said he preferred to follow the Ronald Reagan model of seeking a few high-priority, coherent packages rather than the Jimmy Carter model of proposing a laundry list that gets bogged down in Congress. It's a sensible strategy for the new administration to follow.

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