Sadly, Dr. Panetta's found Clinton dying of 'openness'

August 12, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- If I ever needed a reminder as to why I am not smart enough to work at the White House, I got it the other day.

Bill Clinton's top aides have been trying to figure out why he is doing so poorly in the polls.

The economy is getting better, but he is doing worse.

So what if I were working in the White House and the president dropped by my desk and asked me why he was was doing so lousy?

"Could it be the lack of clear-cut foreign policy?" I would say.

"Naw," the president would say.

"Lack of a clear-cut domestic policy?" I would say.

"Nope," the president would say.

"Whitewater?" I would say. "Paula Jones? Hillary's commodities trades?"

"No, you just don't seem to have a clue," the president would say. "But don't worry, we can always use you at the Democratic National Committee."

Fortunately for Clinton, I do not work at the White House. And people like Leon Panetta do.

Panetta, Clinton's new chief staff, has figured out exactly why Clinton has been dropping in the polls:

Clinton has been too open with the American people.

That is correct. It has been "the subject of many meetings and the subject of a lot of scratched heads," a White House official told Reuters recently. "We've been concerned about that for quite some time."

The official provided an example: Clinton recently announced a step-up in aid to Rwanda. Panetta had wanted him to make the announcement and then shut up.

Instead, Clinton stayed with reporters and answered questions.

Panetta went ballistic. "Why is he still in there?" Panetta was overheard shouting. "It's supposed to be 'thank-you' and out of there!"

But what is so wrong with President Clinton answering questions?

"The danger in such impromptu news conferences, as Clinton's advisers see it," Reuters reported, "is that he will be drawn into questions that run counter to and obscure the day's message."

And, gosh, we couldn't have that, could we? We could not have a president answering questions he was not briefed for and prepped for and rehearsed for.

We could not have a president acting as if he had more brain

cells than a box of rocks.

Which is all part of the great game that is played every four years in this country: Presidential candidates are sold to us as being smart enough to handle the problems of this nation and this world.

But as soon as they are elected, they are treated like helpless, hapless fools who must be protected from themselves by their genius handlers.

Which is not exactly the way the White House recently put it at the Whitewater hearings on Capitol Hill.

There, aides said again and again that the president and his wife needed advance warning about an investigation into a failed savings and loan they had a connection to so they could fully and openly answer questions from the press on the subject.

But is that how the Clintons actually operate?

Back in April, when two reporters from Knight-Ridder asked Clinton why he would not make public his 1978 and 1979 tax returns, he refused to answer, started shouting, and then threw them out of his office.

(As the New York Times would later reveal, Hillary Clinton's huge profits on commodities speculation were hidden in those tax returns. After the Times revealed it, Clinton made the returns public.)

And take a look at what happened when the White House did get an advance warning about a serious problem: On July 20, 1993, then White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum got a "heads up" that Vince Foster, his deputy, had killed himself.

Did Nussbaum then brief Clinton so he could hold a news conference and tell the public what had happened? Naw. Instead, Foster's office was sealed off from police by White House aides, Foster's papers were searched and his Whitewater files were, at Mrs. Clinton's request, turned over to her chief of staff, who locked them in a safe in the Clintons' third-floor White House residence.

Then the White House misled the public and press about this for months.

So if Bill Clinton's handlers think his real problem is that he is too open, I've got news for them:

They can relax.

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