Clinton makes progress on campaign promises ON POLITICS



WASHINGTON -- For all the talk about President Clinton's TC shaky beginning, a scorecard on what he's done in his first two weeks, or reaffirmed he will do, compared with campaign promises already broken, is overall a favorable one.

In the two issues that have created controversies -- his nomination of Zoe Baird to be attorney general and his determination to end discrimination against gays in the military -- he actually kept promises made in the late campaign.

Baird's nomination was part of his pledge to select a Cabinet that "looks like America" -- one having the diversity by gender and race of the country itself. In fact, it was his decision to add another woman to the Cabinet -- in the face, to be sure, of considerable pressure from women's groups -- that put Baird on the short list in the first place.

Clinton's fight with Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Sen. Sam Nunn on the gays issue was also driven by a campaign promise kept. And while the timing and handling can be questioned, it was not a case of Clinton going back on his word -- a deed that in considerable part contributed to his predecessor's downfall.

Probably no other single element weakened former President George Bush's support in his own party than his breaking of his famous "read my lips, no new taxes" campaign pledge of 1988. Bush was so categorical in his Clint Eastwood-style commitment to say no to Congress on new taxes that when he broke his word in 1990 with little explanation, the GOP right-wing bitterly turned against him.

Clinton during the campaign noted that on the matter of deficit reduction, Bush's mistake was in stating so flatly that he would never agree to tax increases when he could not foresee with any certainty whether circumstances would oblige him to change his mind.

He suggested that he would not fall into the same trap, which may have been one reason that, after seeming to making a firm promise early in the primary campaign that he would deliver a middle-income tax cut if elected, he later backed off. By now that promise has been reduced to a wish, with vague references instead to more "fairness" to the middle class in tax policy.

When Clinton as president-elect announced that he was postponing his plan, also a campaign promise, to open America's shores to Haitian refugees, he argued it was a delay only, out of concern for the safety of fleeing people risking their lives in small boats in perilous seas, until an organized means of evaluating claims of political asylum could be achieved.

On that occasion too, Clinton defended his position on grounds of changed circumstances, invoking the same rationale he had said previously should have persuaded Bush from making such a categorical pledge against new taxes.

Clinton is pleading new circumstances as well in an apparent backing away from a campaign contention that he would cut the federal deficit in half in four years, citing higher deficit numbers dumped in his lap by the Bush administration.

On the plus side of the promise ledger, however, Clinton already has delivered or started to deliver on an impressive list of actions. He moved swiftly even before taking office in announcing new ethical standards for executive-branch officials, and right after his inauguration he lifted the so-called gag rule against doctors providing abortion information to patients.

He has his pen poised to sign family leave legislation, has appointed his wife, Hillary, to put his campaign promise to reform health care into motion, and named one of his most trusted campaign aides, Eli Segal, to get his favorite campaign dream of a domestic peace corps going.

He has signaled to his former gubernatorial colleagues that he will forge a new partnership with them in dealing with health care and welfare reform and he has trekked up to Capitol Hill to consult with Democratic members about his pledges on campaign finance reform.

Bush in his campaign promises lacked credibility not only because he had broken his pledge on taxes but because if re-elected he would have been faced again with a Democratic Congress. Clinton has a legislative branch of his own party, which is all the more reason that he should be held to delivering on what he as a candidate said he would do.

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