Clinton lashes out at Falwell, Limbaugh on radio

June 25, 1994|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- In what is becoming a pattern, President Clinton angrily attacked his critics yesterday, lashing out at evangelical Christian leaders, the press, Republicans and talk radio.

Mr. Clinton, interviewed by radio aboard Air Force One on his way to St. Louis, singled out two of his tormentors by name. The first was the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who has been hawking a $43 video laden with conspiracy theories and highly personal attacks against Mr. Clinton.

"Remember," the president said, "Jesus threw the money-changers out of the temple. He didn't try to take over the job of the money-changers." The other target was Rush Limbaugh, the rabble-rousing conservative and wildly successful talk show host who has become Mr. Clinton's personal nemesis.

"There is no reason to be cynical," the president said. "But the American people keep being told that things are bad and politicians are corrupt and the system is broken. That's just not true."

Mr. Clinton, who conceded that he sounded belligerent, vowed: "I'm going to be aggressive from here on in."

Actually, his outbursts are nothing new. In the past year, Mr. Clinton has publicly displayed his temper with increasing frequency, causing even some prominent Democrats to wonder

why such a consummate political campaigner is so unnerved by the kind of criticism that is standard in modern politics.

"Reagan would just laugh some of this stuff off," said one well-known Democratic Party official who asked not to be named.

A bit thin-skinned

A Democrat who knew Mr. Clinton in Arkansas added that Mr. Clinton's famed political skills seem to fail him when he's criticized.

"He's a good man, but he was governor and then president for all but, like, two years since he was in his 20s," he said. "He's never had to bite his tongue, never had to pick up a dinner check, always had a policeman there when a bully comes by. He's been spoiled -- and it shows."

Here's a sampling of recent presidential outbursts:

* In June, after taking nearly three months to nominate Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court -- she was reportedly his fourth choice -- a red-faced Mr. Clinton terminated a news conference and sharply rebuked ABC correspondent Brit Hume for asking about the "zig-zag quality" of his appointment process.

* On Nov. 2, Mr. Clinton, in an interview with the liberal magazine Rolling Stone, suddenly lost his temper at the end of the interview when asked about a former supporter who had questioned his commitment to liberal causes.

"That's the press' fault, too, damn it!" Mr. Clinton said. "I have fought more battles here for more things than any president has in 20 years, with the possible exception of Reagan's first budget, and not gotten one damn bit of credit from the knee-jerk liberal press, and I am sick and tired of it, and you can put that in your damn article!"

* On March 12, two Knight-Ridder reporters interviewing Mr. Clinton in the Oval Office asked about the Whitewater affair. "Visibly agitated and eyes bulging, the president waggled a finger in admonishment," one of them reported. He terminated the interview and remained behind his desk as they were ushered out, refusing the customary handshake.

* Four days later, at a Democratic fund-raiser in Boston, Mr. Clinton lambasted the Republican Party for engaging in the "politics of personal destruction" and for opposing his legislative proposals. Pounding the lectern, Mr. Clinton asked, "Why then are we confronted in this administration with an opposition party that just stands up and says, 'No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!?' "

* In April, at an American Society of Newspaper Editors lunch, Mr. Clinton was asked about conflicting answers he had given on Whitewater. Mr. Clinton replied angrily, "You think I should have shut the whole federal government down and studied these things full time?"

Yesterday, Mr. Clinton became combative after the first question.

The questioner, noting that the presidential trip to St. Louis was organized around a fund-raiser for House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, asked why Mr. Clinton continued to raise huge sums of "soft money."

Such political contributions are raised from wealthy contributors in large chunks, using a loophole to skirt the normal contribution limit of $1,000. Mr. Clinton pledged, when he ran for office, to end that practice.

'Unilaterally disarming'

The president pointed out that he had sent a bill up to Capitol Hill that would outlaw the practice, but until it passed, he didn't want to put his party at a disadvantage by "unilaterally disarming."

But he had an edge in his voice, and when asked a follow-up question, he went on the attack.

"I justify [the fund-raising] because of the opposition policies of the Republican Party and all the special interest groups that have raised and spent far more money against us . . . spreading disinformation to the American people," he said icily.

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