Clinton stages another comeback Mideast, budget battles: Despite many forecasts of weakness, the president comes out on top.

October 27, 1998

IT SEEMS to be a rule of thumb that the more battered and bruised Bill Clinton is, the better his fighting form.

Or is it a matter of the Republicans being unable to resist undermining their own advantages?

As much trouble as Bill Clinton has brought on himself, it's a wonder he is still around. In fact, Republican Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia predicted in January that the president would be out of office in a matter of weeks.

That arrogant deadline, which ignored the American people's thoughts, was moved back to the spring, at the time the Chicago Bulls won another pro basketball championship, then to summer as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa excited the baseball world; now, it is autumn and the New York Yankees have swept the World Series.

And Mr. Clinton? He's still going strong, despite Mr. Barr's misguided partisan prediction.

The president skillfully came out on top in the recent budget battle with the Republican-led Congress. Forget previous photos showing him nervously biting his lip and cartoons with Democrats holding their noses to avoid campaigning with him. That time has passed. He is a president looking and acting every bit the leader of his nation, his party and the world.

He demonstrated that again last week, orchestrating a Middle East peace accord during marathon negotiations on Maryland's Eastern Shore -- a feat that undercuts Republican demands for his impeachment.

In the budget fight, the president put Republican leaders on the defensive by making education the focus and threatening to veto spending bills shackled with unwanted amendments. That created the specter of another government shutdown he could blame on GOP recalcitrance, a position Republicans were eager to avoid.

Thus, Mr. Clinton forced concessions for hiring 100,000 elementary school teachers and for bolstering the International Monetary Fund, more medical research aid and extra assistance to farmers.

Republicans got an increase in money for development of a missile defense system, more funds for logging in Alaska and an increase in visas for foreign high-tech workers -- a far cry from previous battle-cry issues of tax cuts, abortion and family values.

Suddenly, Republicans are on the defensive. As Election Day approaches, they must proceed gingerly on impeachment. They risk impaling themselves on Lewinsky-Starr, which seems to be the death wish of some right-wingers in the face of the unequivocal preferences shown by most people for Mr. Clinton's job performance.

Once again, the "Comeback Kid" has been underestimated.

Pub Date: 10/27/98

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