Clinton: his own worst enemy Republicans adrift: President's greatest worries are self-created, not GOP initiatives

June 02, 1996

GUILTY VERDICTS against three Whitewater associates, a foreign policy setback of momentous proportions in Israel, national ridicule on an issue that brought both his draft avoidance and sexual background to the fore, the reluctant surrender of another 1,000 pages of Travelgate documents -- all in all, not a triumphant week for President Clinton.

Yet through it all, the White House re-election machine purred smoothly as Mr. Clinton beat Sen. Bob Dole to the punch in proposing teen-age curfews and as House Republicans retreated in disarray from their revolutionary attacks on federal programs. Could it be that Mr. Clinton's greatest enemy is himself?

The closest thing to a reading on the political situation was a CNN poll showing that the mammoth 20-point Clinton lead had shrunk to 16 points in the last fortnight -- still a hefty margin. But as a reality check, along came Benjamin Netanyahu's victory over Shimon Peres in the Israeli election. Only two months ago, the prime minister-elect was trailing by 20 points.

Granted, Hamas terrorists are not loose in America to turn the electorate fearfully to the right. But there are enough booby-traps in Mr. Clinton's path to cause a little turmoil among the odds-makers in Las Vegas. The various scandals that come under the rubric of "Whitewater" may creep closer to the Oval Office as independent counsel Kenneth Starr puts two contributors to the 1990 Clinton gubernatorial campaign on trial for election fraud on June 17.

A day earlier Russians will go to the polls to determine if Boris Yeltsin is to prevail over a communist resurgence. Mr. Clinton has come to the Russian president's support almost as overtly and enthusiastically as he backed Mr. Peres in Israel. "The administration identifies itself excessively, both in Israel and in Russia, with individuals," intones Henry Kissinger.

While the Republicans may have something to gain if things go sour abroad, they have few alternatives to offer other than a crusade for a national missile defense system. Mr. Dole's opportunities lie more on the domestic scene, where a GOP tax cut proposal is in gestation.

Mr. Clinton's big asset is the "bully pulpit" of the presidency, which is being used to project him as a conservative on social questions. Now that Mr. Dole has decided to give up his own bully pulpit as Senate majority leader, he has to find issues beyond the legislative agenda to use against his Democratic foe. The most promising issue may be the president himself.

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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