Still glad, but . . . Is Clinton already a failure?

A. M. Rosenthal

June 01, 1993|By A. M. Rosenthal

SHE swooped at me across the banquet room like a lovely bird of passion, glistening with the joy and fulfillment of vengeance.

"Now," she cried in high Republican ecstasy. "Now aren't you sorry you voted for Clinton?"

No, I cry back, do with me what you will, but I am not sorry. I am glad, glad!

I will make up my mind about 1996 in 1996. But right now Clinton voters are ahead of the game. They already have achieved major goals.

For one thing, George Bush is not president. Surely that was a shining objective in voting for Mr. Clinton. They can't take that away from us.

Continuing: The new president gave Americans a wake-up shake by making them think through the deficit -- and what they are willing to pay in taxes or benefits to reduce it. And he is giving the United States its first national debate on universal health care, decades overdue. If Clinton voters now don't like the details of what they asked for, the right to scream our heads off is right there in the Constitution.

He floundered on Bosnia; he certainly did. But he has managed to keep the country out of a war impossible to win without a heavy commitment of ground troops. Any hands raised for that?

Admittedly, there is a certain dependable regularity to White House pratfalls. If we try hard, maybe we can put down haircuts that close airports and tinkering with the FBI to arrogance, smugness and inexperience in the White House, top down. Perhaps it can be cured by presidential self-examination and a hug to some aides, one warm, last hug.

But that's enough of smarmy patience. It ends, replaced by healthy snarls when Mr. Clinton reverses himself or fudges on the single most important goal in American life: racial reconciliation.

We all have our definitions about that but for most Clinton voters it cannot include such things as these:

Racial polarization. Setting black and white politically and legally apart. Making the Justice Department and courts the supervisors of state legislatures, to decide when majority political rule can be set aside for minority interests. Deciding that a black politician elected with white support is not really an "authentic" black politician. Scorning the efforts of the Voting Rights Act to give blacks power within majority politics, not apart from or above it. Creating weighted voting systems that would promote apartness.

But Mr. Clinton, to the grief -- the exact word -- of Democratic integrationists has nominated Prof. How could he have done such a thing?

Lani Guinier to head the civil rights work of the Justice Department. She stands for those things and others destructive of the hope for racial harmony to which they devoted so much of their lives.

The nomination has created such shock among Democrats that she will probably not get congressional approval. Her name may even be withdrawn.

But questions about how she came to be nominated are as important as she is herself.

This is not some bad after-dinner joke or imperious holding up of air traffic but a matter of deepest national interest and emotion.

How could he have done such a thing? The simplest answer is that he agrees with her. Or maybe he does not think it important what his new civil rights chief thinks about civil rights.

Democratic racial integrationists, including people who worked with him to draw up his civil rights policy during the campaign, say neither answer makes sense. They cannot believe it, not about the Bill Clinton who had stood against quotas during the campaign, who went from black church to white church preaching the same message of individual responsibility against racial divisiveness.

What then? Was the nomination promoted by Hillary Clinton? If so, aren't we tired of using her as the whipping girl? Even if she wanted Professor Guinier, don't husbands ever say hell no in the White House? What happened? Maybe a hearing would be better than a withdrawal, so we could find out.

Yes, passion bird, I am still glad. I am not at all lonesome for Bushbaker. But I could use some answers to help stay glad.

So could a lot of others around the country who think that in racial integration lies the future of the United States and won't take any funny business about it, not even from a president of their choice -- particularly not from him.

A.M. Rosenthal is a New York Times columnist.

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