Clinton: Mixed Impressions

November 17, 1992

President-elect Clinton and Democratic leaders on Capital Hill are saying all the right things as they prepare for a "new era" in which their party will control both the executive and legislative branches of government. They talk of the end of the "Cold War" between Congress and the White House and try to smooth away the rough edges of contentious issues that have arisen -- often gratuitously -- in the first fortnight after their Nov. 3 election victory.

The American people, however, have every right to adopt a "show me" attitude. When Democrats last enjoyed such a grant of power, President Jimmy Carter quickly found himself in a battle-royal with Capitol Hill.

This time Mr. Clinton impresses us as being far more sensitive to the ways of Washington. No provincial he, surrounded by a home-state "mafia." Yet having said that, we are somewhat dismayed by the emergence of divisive issues -- gays in the military, D. C. statehood, asylum for Haitian refugees, the line-item veto -- that could play hob with his plans for stimulating the economy and attacking the deficit problem.

Republican Senate leader Robert Dole, laying claim to a "mandate" from that 57 percent of the electorate who voted for George Bush or Ross Perot, has been sending warning shots. If he can hold his 42- or 43-member caucus together, Senator Dole can delay the Clinton program and protect any anti-administration legislation from Clinton vetoes.

When you combine predictable Republican opposition with the known resistance from the Democratic side of Sen. Sam Nunn to homosexuals in the military and of Sen. Robert Byrd to even a watered-down version of the line-item veto, you have the makings of modified gridlock.

This is where Mr. Clinton's putative ability to conciliate opposing views and drive hard to achieve his own ends will be tested. A president's every move factors into what Mr. Clinton calls the "mammoth complexity" of trying to govern a nation, a people and an economy that often generate forces beyond Washington's control. It also resonates worldwide, often among nations that are less than friendly toward the United States.

Mr. Clinton's heady first two weeks have produced mixed impressions. His trip to Washington this week, when he will visit both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, will provide new evidence whether he has the political skills and the personal force to launch his administration successfully.

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