Self-inflicted wound may not heal quickly

June 04, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Some of the storms that have buffeted Bill Clinton's presidency -- the crisis in Bosnia, for example -- were forced on him from outside. Some -- most notably the battle over higher taxes -- have stemmed from deliberate policy decisions.

But, as even Mr. Clinton's own aides concede, the debacle of Lani Guinier was an entirely self-inflicted -- and entirely unnecessary -- wound.

Because of that, the withdrawal of the controversial nomination to head the Justice Department's civil rights division is certain to hurt Mr. Clinton in two of his most vulnerable spots: the public's faith in the basic competence of the White House and his standing with a loyal constituency.

Even Mr. Clinton's allies were bewildered by the notion that Mr. Clinton, who has prided himself on his hands-on control of senior appointments, could have nominated Ms. Guinier without being fully briefed on her writings and that the White House could have put forward the nomination without preparing a plan to defend it.

"You have a lot of very talented people over there who are simply not doing a good job," said one close Clinton adviser.

The response among many black leaders was rage.

Roger Wilkins, a Justice Department official during the administration of President Lyndon Johnson and now a professor at George Mason University, said Ms. Guinier's nomination had been "nibbled to death by cowardly, anonymous White House aides who wanted to batter her into withdrawing her nomination."

The bitterness of black leaders is understandable, and its political cost to Mr. Clinton potentially great.

They had delivered millions of votes for him in a presidential contest in which the Democratic standard-bearer had squeezed out only a narrow victory. For their troubles, many of them now believe, one of their own has been publicly humiliated.

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