There's still a country that needs to be run Polls' real message: Public expects congressional attention to nation's needs despite Lewinsky matter.

September 18, 1998

BILL CLINTON'S ambitions were clear. He wanted to be a president who made a difference, a president of substance, to whom history would be kind and laudatory. But his basic personal instincts overwhelmed his basic political instincts: As a severely crippled president, Mr. Clinton heads into the homestretch of his tenure. The legacy he desired has slipped away.

To accomplish even some of the tasks he has set, Mr. Clinton will have to mobilize his fellow Democrats and enlist Republicans in the name of domestic tranquillity. That won't be easy. Instead of governing from strength, President Clinton's final two years may find him in charge of a limp-along administration.

The most immediate gauge of the impact will be the November elections. The outcome will determine the type and fate of whatever domestic program Mr. Clinton is able to put together.

Severe urban ills, such as housing, homelessness and unemployment, demand attention. There needs to be a follow-up on the president's race initiative.

The agenda also includes campaign finance reform, education, health care and a shored-up Social Security system. Also of concern are appointments to the federal bench, which have become backlogged.

Understandably, Congress will have to dispose of the matter at hand, the Starr report. Lawmakers should do that with as much dispatch as possible. Meanwhile, Mr. Clinton is still the president, although facing impeachment threats and calls for his resignation.

The crucial players are the Republicans: They control majorities in the House and Senate. Yet the president must also repair his base among Democrats in Congress, many of whom now doubt his ability to lead.

Mr. Clinton is a lame duck, a wounded one at that, but there is still a country that has to be run. There are important issues that the American public will insist not be held hostage to gridlock by Democrats or Republicans.

The people continue to indicate that they want the shenanigans put to rest and the politicians in Washington to get on with governing.

Pub Date: 9/18/98

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