Clinton's First Press Conference

March 24, 1993

President Clinton demonstrated yesterday a presidentia grasp of detail and a joy in the traditional White House press conference that has not been seen in Washington in a generation.

Some other recent presidents have on occasion been as well prepared to answer reporters' questions -- even the zany ones -- but we can recall few instances of a president who was better prepared. We also can recall few instances in which a president seemed more at ease or in better spirits dueling with the Washington press corps than Mr. Clinton. He came off as a combination of Jimmy Carter's knowledge and Ronald Reagan's personality. In other words, John F. Kennedy.

That he did this in his first press conference, and at a time when a very serious international crisis was looming, makes his performance all the more remarkable. One press conference does not a president make, but if Mr. Clinton can keep repeating yesterday's performance, he should soon see his standing in the polls rise.

By our count, the president took 21 questions dealing with 16 topics in 40 minutes and didn't bobble one.

On the situation in Russia, he was sure-footed, refusing to answer what Franklin D. Roosevelt used to call "iffy questions." He made it clear that the United States has interests in Russia that transcend personalities but that this country strongly supports Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin in his titanic struggle with his parliament.

The president held his first press conference later in his term than any of his television-age predecessors. It has been reported that he doesn't care for the medium because so many different topics come up. He likes to keep the public focused on his issue of the day, so to speak. Having the reporters quiz him in public on everything from the Supreme Court vacancy, the FBI, his health-care proposals, his bad relations with the military, Cuba, Mississippi, Russia and other topics does, in fact, dilute his message and scramble his agenda. But that loss is more than compensated, politically speaking, by his demonstrated skill in handling such a wide array of topics. Here is a president who shows every sign of being on top of the job and enjoying every minute of it.

In addition, the president was able to communicate directly and instantaneously not only with the American public, but with the bureaucracy and Congress and the people and ministries of the world. Only in the traditional White House press conference can a president pull all that off. When he was leaving the conference room yesterday (after having hit the last question, a softball, out of the park), a reporter shouted: "Let's do it again sometime!" President Clinton answered: "Thank you. Soon I hope." We hope so, too.

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