Spurred by voters' unrest, experts to ponder presidency

October 14, 1994|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Sun Staff Writer

With voters across the country in an extraordinarily cranky mood, political leaders and experts from around the United States and abroad will gather in Baltimore this weekend to dissect two major targets of the public's angst: the president and the Congress.

Sponsored by the New York-based Center for the Study of the Presidency, the 25th annual Leadership Conference will feature discussions with political scientists, journalists and officials from administrations as far back as the Eisenhower era. The event will include speeches by Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty III, a White House adviser, and Philip Lader, head of the Small Business Administration.

"We're giving the administration an opportunity to defend and set forth its position," says R. Gordon Hoxie, the president of the center and a former Eisenhower administration aide who founded the nonpartisan think tank in 1968.

Mr. Hoxie expects about 400 people from around the country, including students and teachers, business people, community leaders and military and government officials, to attend the conference at the Hyatt Regency hotel. Beginning tonight with a keynote speech by Sen. Larry Pressler, a South Dakota Republican, the three-day event includes panel discussions on topics ranging from foreign policy to the media.

"The theme -- governance and leadership -- was inspired by what is troubling the American people today," Mr. Hoxie said. "The public is more troubled today than any time I can remember. There's sort of a malaise, to borrow a phrase from Jimmy Carter, about government in general and leadership in particular."

Indeed, political scientists say the public's anxiety attack is a great mystery -- and irony -- given that the economy is on an upswing and the nation is not at war.

"There's an underlying frustration, and trying to figure out exactly why is extremely difficult," says James P. Pfiffner, a professor of government at George Mason University.

Although President Clinton hasn't been able to deliver all that he promised, Mr. Pfiffner said there seems to be "an irrational hatred of Clinton in a personal way that doesn't seem justified by his policies or even his personal life."

Roger H. Davidson, a University of Maryland political science professor, believes the harsh criticism of Congress is largely undeserved.

"The public has an unrealistically low view of Congress," he said. "With the nation itself divided on issues such as health care, crime control and welfare, Congress is not going to have a clear signal as to how to solve some of these very thorny issues."

For more information on this weekend's conference, call (410) 659-7300.

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