Clinton's mandate to preserve status quo Voters offer ideas for second term

November 10, 1996|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- There is perhaps only one mandate for President Clinton's second term upon which voters seem in agreement: Never again mention a bridge to the 21st century.

"Please," implores John Olsen, a lawyer in Kennett Square, Pa., and Republican who voted for Clinton. "Dump the bridge."

Beyond that, Clinton's mandate for the next four years is an open question. The relentlessly repeated "bridge" metaphor may have been more presidential than the cocky "It's the economy, stupid" mantra his campaign aides threw around four years ago. But it had none of the definition and focus, leaving the president with a grab bag of modest ideas for a second term and voters with only their own hopes and expectations for Clinton's next moves.

In interviews with voters around the country last week, the president's supporters named a wide range of issues -- from the budget to wel- fare reform, education and the environment -- around which they hoped Clinton would build his second term.

In contrast to four years ago -- and even two years ago -- when the public registered an unmistakable cry for change, many said they hoped Clinton would do everything he could to prevent change.

"Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and my pension fund -- leave them alone!" said Robert J. Stenger, 54, a mechanic in Parma, Ohio.

Indeed, many Democrats, Republicans and independents alike said they deliberately split their ticket on Tuesday, voting for the Democratic president but their Republican representatives to Congress, in an apparent call for moderation. They said they were happy with what seemed to be a healthy, constructive tug of war along Pennsylvania Avenue that would restrain the more zealous elements of each party.

"I want stability and continuation," said Craig Moss, 38, an international business consultant in Westport, Conn.

"Keeping everything in check -- that's the way the system is supposed to work," said Larry W. Hall, a jeweler in Marietta, Ohio.

Hall, a 44-year-old Republican who voted for Clinton, summed up his wish for the president's agenda as "steady as she goes."

Such a fuzzy status-quo mandate is not unusual for second-term presidents. In the 1980 campaign that preceded Ronald Reagan's first term, the Republican nominee put forth a specific, coherent political philosophy built around cutting taxes and shifting spending from social programs to defense and viewing government as a problem, not a solution.

"When he won a big victory, even Democrats felt he did have a mandate, not just to govern, but to make changes," says Allan J. Lichtman, a history professor at American University and author of "Keys to the White House."

The campaign for Reagan's second term was defined by the poetic and uplifting, but completely unspecific "Morning in America" theme.

"Typically, revolutionary presidents achieve the bulk of their revolution in the first term," says Lichtman, citing Franklin D. Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Reagan as examples.

He said, too, that two-term presidents generally focus in their first terms on the domestic policy issues that they campaigned on -- generally related to the economy -- and on foreign policy in the second term.

Clinton may emerge as an exception. He has always been more attuned to domestic affairs, and the foreign policy issues he faces -- those in the Middle East and Bosnia, for example -- are long-standing problems that have defied solutions for generations.

Voters, too, appear more interested in economic and social problems at home, and their hopes for his administration are anything but expansive. For many, especially liberal Democrats, Clinton will achieve enough if he merely acts as a brake on the Republican-led Congress and as a protector of social programs, rights and entitlements.

"My vote didn't come out of any particular love for Clinton as much as seeing him as a defensive block against the Republicans," said Joshua Goldin, 36, a Los Angeles screenwriter.

"What I'm hoping he'll do is hold back as much of the Republican agenda as he can while maintaining a woman's right to choose and as much of affirmative action programs as still exist," said Jim Casey, 45, a travel agent in Arlington, Va.

In this vein, Wendie Bernstein Lash, 36, president of WebChat Broadcasting System in San Francisco, said she wanted to see Clinton balance the budget, "but in a moderate way that would not be a crushing blow to people dependent on social services."

Similarly, a number of voters said welfare reform was at the top of their wish list. Many hope Clinton will make good on his word to modify what they see as harsh elements of the welfare bill he signed over some Democratic protests.

"I recognize the need for welfare reform, but I think Clinton's approach will be less drastic," said Dave Lylo, 41, a computer systems analyst in Camp Hill, Pa. "He's a good politician, let's face it. He knows people think these reforms need to be made. But you can't pull the rug out from under people."

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