. . . But showing signs of foxdom

Mona Charen

January 21, 1993|By Mona Charen

ISAIAH Berlin, the great English critic, drew a distinction among novelists between hedgehogs and foxes. The fox knows many things, said Berlin, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. The same can be said of politicians.

Jimmy Carter was a fox. He knew the nuts and bolts of policy and was widely credited with a keen intelligence. Ronald Reagan was a hedgehog; he knew one big thing -- government was not the solution, it was part of the problem.

Bill Clinton is showing signs of foxdom. Is there an organizing principle to the Clinton agenda? Wait, back up. Is there a Clinton agenda?

One is forced to ask this question even during President Clinton's week of gala inauguration festivities. One doesn't want to be the skunk at the garden party, but really, the week has been so top-heavy with symbolism that it must be asked, what is all the symbolism supposed to mean?

The Clintons toured Monticello and then followed Thomas Jefferson's route to Washington, D.C. Is this supposed to signify that Mr. Clinton agrees with the statement "That government governs best that governs least"? (Now that would be a New Democrat!) When they arrived in the capital, the Clintons held a ceremonial ringing of the Liberty Bell, which Mr. Clinton noted, "has not been rung in a very, very long time." Hmmm, does this mean we are now finally free after 12 years in bondage?

What makes all of this show biz seem somewhat contrived is that it comes on the heels of a stunning number of policy reversals. In the past several weeks, Bill Clinton has backed away from practically every promise he made as a candidate. The first to go was the bloated boast that he would cut the deficit in half with in four years. "Circumstances have changed," says the new president. Nonsense. Everyone knew last summer -- and the Congressional Budget Office published it -- that the deficit was going to be larger than projected. (By the way, the new projections may turn out to be too high if the economy continues to grow at its current pace.)

Mr. Clinton has also jettisoned his famed middle-class tax cut; his promise to "hit the ground running" within the first 100 days with an economic plan and a health care plan; his pledge to cut the White House staff by 25 percent; and his opposition to a gasoline tax (which helped him defeat Paul Tsongas in the primaries).

Mr. Clinton has also completely reversed himself on U.S. policy toward the Haitian boat people. During the campaign, he scorned the Bush policy of turning back boatloads of Haitians as "just another example of this administration's callous disregard for human suffering." Democrats love to accuse Republicans of hardheartedness. It makes them feel so superior. (Unless, of course, Republican softheartedness causes them to sell arms to the ayatollah, in which case the Democrats accuse them of criminality.) But now, President Clinton has broadcast a message by radio to Haiti. Don't get into boats and head for Miami, it said, because if you do, we will pick you up on the high seas and return you to Haiti.

And then there is Iraq. Now, admittedly, George Bush found himself, as the clock ran out on his administration, in a pickle of his own making. It is because he failed to finish off Saddam when he had the chance that he is forced to respond now to a tit-for-tat game on Saddam's terms.

But Bill Clinton's bobbing and weaving is quite simply unconscionable. First Mr. Clinton told the New York Times that he would consider improving relations with Saddam ("My job is not to pick their rulers for them . . . If he wants a different relationship with the United States and the United Nations, all he has to do is change his behavior.") Later, when he saw his statement in print, he denied having said it.

The denial made it two blunders. The toe in the water on improved relations with Iraq is particularly galling in light of Mr. Clinton's, and especially Al Gore's, campaign-year accusations against George Bush for having "coddled" Saddam pre-1990.

This fox knows many things, but is he committed to anything?

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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