Hail To The Failed Chief


July 25, 1993|By DAVE BARRY

The time has come for unbiased observers such as myself to make a fair and objective assessment of the first roughly 187 days of the failed Clinton administration.

I would say it did pretty well until the inauguration. There had been great excitement as "The Man From Hope Via Oxford And Of Course Yale Law School" came to Washington, bringing with him a new vision for America and numerous 18-point programs and a cat.

He also brought a close-knit, battle-hardened staff of smart, tough, fiercely dedicated, loyal, savvy, gung-ho junior-high-school students, who immediately set about the task of transforming the federal government from a bloated, money-hemorrhaging bureaucracy into a bloated, money-hemorrhaging bureaucracy in which they had reserved parking spaces. They worked long hours, burning the midnight oil night after night, until finally, possibly as a result of inhaling oil fumes, they began displaying the shrewd political savvy of floor wax.

The unfortunate result was a series of administration blunders, culminating in the now-famous debacle wherein the president got a $200 haircut on an airport runway. (Other presidents had done the same kind of thing, but at least they had the common sense to be inside an actual airplane at the time.) President Clinton also had problems with major nominations, as was evidenced by his decision -- blamed on sloppy staff work -- to give the U.N. ambassadorship to Gennifer Flowers.

But at least that time he made a decision. Most of the time he

appeared to be highly indecisive, especially when he was trying to pick a Supreme Court nominee; at one point his staff leaked the names of roughly 350 simultaneous front-runners, including Raymond Burr. You had all these people convinced that they were going to get the job, which made for a pretty awkward scene when the president finally made the announcement:

President Clinton: . . . and so I am very pleased to announce the nomination of the person I truly feel is best qualified for this critical position, and that person is . . . (flip . . . ) Tails! It's what's her name! The little short lady with three names!

To make matters worse, Mr. Clinton was not getting along with the White House press corps, as could be detected by the outwardly respectful, yet subtly negative tone of the questions he was asked ("Mr. President, sir, with all due respect, sir, are you a big hiney-head, or what?").

The press corps tends to be testy, and you would understand why if you saw the White House press facility. It's nothing like the Green Room or East Room; it's more like the Dumpster Room. It's cramped and grungy, and there are reporters in there who have been sitting around since the Lincoln administration, surviving on vending-machine food.

So the reporters were already in a cranky mood when this new president came swooping in and started yammering day and night about his economic package. Reporters believe there is nothing more boring than an economic package, except maybe an environmental package.

So whenever President Clinton tried to talk about the economy, the press corps, to be ornery, asked questions about something else. If the Clinton strategists had been smart, they'd have used reverse psychology to trick the press corps into asking the right kinds of questions:

President Clinton: I'd like to start by announcing that last night I lost $3.7 billion and a naval base playing golf with Michael Jordan. Naked. I'll take your questions now.

Press corps member (suspiciously): What about your economic package?

Anyway, the bottom line is that it has not been a great first 187 days. But it's getting better. The White House has a new direction and purpose, which is being provided by David Gergen, the same man who provided direction and purpose for the Reagan White House. Gergen has turned the administration around via the shrewd tactic of having President Clinton meet with reporters only while standing in front of a very loud helicopter while Nancy Reagan, who has graciously come out of retirement, plucks at his sleeve.

So once again the country appears to be headed in the right direction. There's even talk that some time this fall, if conditions are right, we're going to invade Grenada. And here's another piece of good news: For some unknown reason, we're suddenly very popular in the United Nations.

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