Clinton can't afford to wait for the boo-birds to sing no

ROGER SIMON

February 19, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

ST. LOUIS -- After telling us Wednesday night just what our relationship is going to be like, Bill Clinton ventured forth yesterday to see if America still respected him in the morning.

Naturally, he went first to the Heartland. Presidents love the Heartland.

Why?

Well, cynics say, they call it the Heartland because it's not where you find the brains.

But when Bill Clinton traveled here after the Democratic Convention last year, he found something else: Enthusiasm. Huge crowds. And love.

And what more could any president ask? So he returned yesterday to make his pitch to honest, sturdy, hard-working, unjaded Americans who are willing to undergo the S-word for their president.

Sacrifice. The word Bill Clinton will not utter, but the word on the lips of everyone else. Not that the people are complaining. Not yet, anyway.

Because the cleansing, unifying, we're-all-in-the-same-boat kind of sacrifice that Clinton is selling is designed to convince Americans that if everybody gives up something, nobody really gives up much of anything.

"No guts, no glory," Clinton quoted from a sign held by a member of the huge crowd gathered in a shopping mall in downtown St. Louis. And then, like he always does when he is feeling good, he began talking "down-home," even dropping his g's once or twice.

Some of his speech to Congress, he said, was "just off the top of my head and the bottom of my heart. It was sort of plain spoken, and I couldn't figure out how else to say what I think is the plain truth about where we are . . . We cannot keep doin' the same old thing."

The people loved it. They beat their hands together and shouted his name. Imagine: applauding for higher taxes. But it was as if after 12 years of a governmental philosophy best described as "Don't Do Something; Just Stand There," Bill Clinton was now doing everything. And all at once:

Hike taxes. Cut spending. Pass the Brady Bill. Fix health care. Fully fund Head Start. Soak the rich. Aid the poor. Just do it. Move it. Sell it.

Chiefly sell it. Presidents have always needed the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job, but now they need the !B salesmanship of P. T. Barnum.

In an era when talk-radio seems able to change the course of history, it is not enough for a president merely to devise a plan. He must now flog it from one end of the country to the other with the same relentlessness as a Coke commercial.

The strategy of this Clinton fly-around (he speaks in Ohio and New York today) is the strategy of any good advertising campaign: Tell the people you're going to tell them. Tell them. Then tell them you told them.

Timing is everything. Clinton must build quick, insurmountable public support before the boo-birds in Congress start picking his plan apart.

But even Clinton, a master of political timing, is capable of error. Which brings us to the story which has shared the headlines with his call for sacrifice: His jogging track. The $30,000 jogging track that Bill Clinton started constructing on the White House grounds at exactly the same time he began asking Americans to do with less.

No matter that it is being built from private solicitations and not tax dollars. Few Americans are going to be able to pay their increased heating and cooling bills next year out of private solicitations.

And, say, aren't those people being solicited just another special interest group seeking to curry favor with the president?

Then there is the cost. Thirty-thousand bucks for a track? Tracks are supposed to be made out of cinders, Mr. President, not diamonds.

Is there anyone who doesn't believe he could build a track for one-tenth that amount? (Heck, for $3,000, I'll jog for him.)

All of his advisers are bright enough to recognize that the timing was bad and he should have waited. But you can't tell Clinton to wait on anything these days. He wanted his track like he wants everything: Yesterday. If not sooner.

And what does he want for you?

"More jobs," he said yesterday. "Higher income. Deal with the health care crisis. Provide a lifetime educational system. And reduce the national deficit."

So you can see why he better get started.

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