PRESIDENT Clinton's critics have chided him for being too...

salmagundi

March 11, 1994

PRESIDENT Clinton's critics have chided him for being too "slick," or for getting ensnared in unworkable compromises because of an incessant desire to please. Since taking office, however, his actions often have bespoken the opposite characteristics: Gut-level reactions seem to drive this president more than crass calculation. And his penchant for picking new political fights almost weekly hardly makes him seem immobilized by political concession-making.

One recent battle into which he has waded is federal legislation that would outlaw smoking in most places outside people's homes. The Smoke-Free Environment Act would ban smoking in buildings regularly entered by 10 or more people at least one day a week, not including residences. The proposal has received the bipartisan nod of the past six U.S. surgeons general. The savings of lives and health care costs would be great and at little expense, the administration says, because enforcement would be through individual lawsuits, not by federal cigarette marshals.

Tobacco smoke is a proven health hazard, and American business might even welcome a consistent national policy on public smoking over the patchwork of local legislation.

One has to wonder, though, whether an active stance by the president will impede some of the momentum already building at the lower levels of government and with the public at large against smoking. While smoking is a health issue, it is also viewed by some as a personal "freedom" issue.

President Clinton seems to be piling on to a societal shift that is already building a head of steam. Some people will admire a president who, as said the old cigarette ads, would rather fight than switch. Fearlessness is admirable in a leader; so is effectiveness. President Clinton must be discriminating about his battles lest he undercut his larger agenda.

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