Former presidential adviser Morris provides a forecast

November 17, 1997|By Jack W. Germond & Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's failure to get congressional approval of his bid for new fast-track trade negotiating authority is drawing heavy speculation that his lame-duck status, imposed by the two-term constitutional limit, has already doomed to failure his remaining three years in the Oval Office.

Recovery possible

One, somewhat surprisingly, who fears that it may be true, but who believes Mr. Clinton can still recover sufficiently from this setback and have a fruitful end to his presidency, is Dick Morris, his deposed political guru of the 1995-96 election cycle.

Mr. Morris, who says he still talks to Mr. Clinton ''from time to time'' but no longer has official status as a Clinton White House insider, argues that the president made a mistake on the fast-track legislation in tying his case to prospects for more jobs at home, rather than pitching for it as a way to lift people around the world out of poverty.

''I think, frankly, one of the big things we have to do as a society,'' Mr. Morris says, ''is we have to recognize that as the only economy that works, we have an obligation to try to spread economic prosperity.

''If I were still there and running the campaign for fast track, I would not have predicated on the argument of job creation. That's a transparently phony argument. I would have done it on the basis of uplifting people in poverty, because most of the fast track was for Africa and Latin America. Are we really supposed to make money on our dealings with Africa and Latin America? Are we really supposed to have a net transfer of wealth from them to us? We're 5 percent of the world's population and a quarter of its wealth. They're a quarter of the world's population and less than 5 percent of its wealth.''

Asked whether he really believes the American people would react to that kind of humanitarian pitch, Mr. Morris says ''they would absolutely buy that, in a heartbeat. They didn't buy the ridiculous argument that trade is a net gainer of jobs . . . At the moment, imports probably do more to create jobs in America than exports do, because imports hold down inflation.''

Agenda lacking

Mr. Morris says the danger of Mr. Clinton becoming an ineffective lame duck lies largely with the fact he has already achieved most of what he wants to do and doesn't have a strong enough agenda for the final three years. Although his former top political adviser says Mr. Clinton's positive legacy is already assured by his balanced-budget deal with Congress and welfare, child care and education reforms, he has a list of suggestions he says can revitalize the Clinton presidency before his old boss leaves office.

They focus on the sorts of family-values issues that Mr. Morris was instrumental in having Mr. Clinton emphasize in his political resurrection after the setback of the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994.

The president, he says, should tackle conspicuously such problems as teen-age pregnancy and drug use and work on trying to reduce the number of abortions while continuing to support abortion rights, easier adoptions and enforcement of child support payments. The agenda should also strive, Mr. Morris says, to protect health-care recipients against arbitrary decisions on treatment coverage by health maintenance organizations and defend choice of their own doctors.

Such agenda items clearly will not warm the hearts of liberal Democrats, many of whom shunned Mr. Clinton's pleas to back him on fast-track trade authority and who are cool to his cozying up to Republican positions, albeit to steal their political thunder as he did in winning his second term a year ago.

Down the middle

But Mr. Morris remains convinced that Mr. Clinton's political success will be tied, as it was over the past two years, to walking his own road to the center of the political spectrum, rather than adhering to old liberal Democratic paths that in Mr. Morris' view will take him nowhere as his presidency winds down.

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover report from The Sun's Washington bureau.

Pub Date: 11/17/97

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