A tiny move by Clinton shows his will to adjust ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

May 10, 1993|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON -- As White House staff shake-ups go President Clinton's decision to bring in a second deputy chief of staff to help lighten the load of chief of staff Mack McLarty is pretty small potatoes. The appointee, Roy Neel, a longtime aide to Vice President Al Gore, is to join the other deputy, Mark Gearan, to free McLarty to be more effective as Clinton's point man on getting his decisions implemented.

Gearan and Neel worked closely together during the 1992 general-election campaign, when Gearan was assigned by Clinton's managers to bring Gore up to speed on campaign strategy once he was named the vice presidential nominee, and to serve as his chief campaign aide. Neel is to assume much of the day-to-day routine chores in McLarty's office with Gearan focusing on longer-range planning, including how to get the Clinton presidency's focus back on its original economic recovery track.

More than anything else, the minor move illustrates Clinton's readiness to adjust in the face of adversity. After his first 100 days in office, the new president is well aware that he has lost the single-minded "laser beam" on the economy that marked his winning presidential campaign. The distraction of the situation in Bosnia has only been part of the problem; other domestic issues such as the debate over gays in the military have created the image of a presidency of uncertain direction.

Clinton clearly is determined to re-establish the can-do atmosphere that marked the launching of his economic reform package -- an atmosphere generated by a deft public-relations sales campaign with the president himself as chief salesman around the country. He is to resume that role this week with visits to Cleveland, Chicago and New York.

In that earlier endeavor, Clinton took a page from his 1992 campaign, which featured a relentless repetition of the case against George Bush's aloof attitude toward the recession and for his own agenda for change. Political strategist James Carville's famed admonition to the Clinton staff to remember "the economy, stupid" reflected that single-mindedness.

Just as in the planning for the original push on the new president's economic recovery package, key political operatives on the White House staff along with Carville and his partner Paul Begala met with Clinton a few days ago to game-plan the second push that will be launched this week. Attendees included McLarty, Gearan, White House political director Rahm Emanuel, communications director George Stephanopoulos, press secretary Dee Dee Myers and chief scheduler Marsha Hale.

While Clinton isn't quite going back to square one and starting over after a somewhat erratic start, he is emulating a penchant demonstrated in the 1992 campaign for periodic self-examination and adjustment. Once he had survived the issues of personal behavior and character that rocked him in the New Hampshire primary, he felt the need to take a second look at his own economic agenda, revamping it for the fall campaign.

When he came out with it at a time Bush and independent candidate Ross Perot were sniping at each other almost daily, Clinton was able to offer himself as the one candidate who was keeping his eye on the ball in terms of voters' concerns. Thereafter, right through the election, he hammered at the economy issue without letup.

So the new president knows the value of keeping the public's attention, and his own, on dealing with the issues that got him elected. The same group of political advisers is also gearing up for a full-court press on health care reform, once the task force headed by the president's wife comes up with its proposal.

For all that, however, the unpredictability of events remains an impediment to Clinton's intentions to keep the economy and a few other key domestic issues on the front burner.

So far the Bosnian situation has been only a distraction. If he feels obliged finally to commit U.S. military power in some way, it could propel foreign policy to the forefront every bit as much as it was in the presidency of the man he beat in November, partly by arguing that George Bush was too engaged abroad to tend to problems at home.

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