Addressing truth and the union

January 19, 1999

The Arizona Republic wrote in an editorial today:

Tonight President Clinton will talk to a nation that has grown weary of the sex scandal undermining his presidency but seems still smitten by the man and his policies.

That contradiction is reflected in the surreal scene that is the stage for Bill Clinton's State of the Union address. Already impeached by the House and standing trial in the Senate, Mr. Clinton will address a joint session of lawmakers -- men and women who also happen to be his accusers and his jurors -- as well as a public to whom he has lied.

As bizarre as it will be, tonight is an opportunity for Mr. Clinton to make some amends, and to spotlight policy priorities for 1999. For the moment, he can draw strength from the knowledge that the Senate lacks the votes to convict.

Though that could change.

Mr. Clinton's poll numbers remain obscenely high, reflecting a roaring economy and a nation without soldiers dying in rice paddies or desert sands. Depending on the survey, about 60 percent of Americans want him to stay in office and 87 percent say he's doing a good job -- this despite the fact that eight of 10 Americans believe Mr. Clinton lied to the grand jury and more than half say they don't respect him as a person.

His support is like the Rio Grande -- a mile wide and an inch deep.

In the days leading up to tonight, Mr. Clinton said he'd not address the impeachment trial during his speech. "I think the American people have heard about that quite extensively over the last year," he said. "My instinct is that I should do their business."

We think that would be a mistake. The character of the man is every bit as important as a foreign or domestic policy initiative, and Mr. Clinton owes the country something more than indolence and continued ducking of responsibility for his behavior.

The office of the presidency has been despoiled by Mr. Clinton's sordid behavior and his lack of remorse.

At the same time, an overly partisan House backfired against Republicans. Confidence in our elected officials is at a historic low.

How should the president proceed tonight?

We offer three suggestions.

1. Talk about the impeachment, briefly and honestly. Try a little candor, stir in a bit of humility. Accept responsibility.

2. Be brief. We don't need to hear a 75-minute laundry list of past accomplishments and new initiatives -- many of which have been leaked in recent days and many of which you are too weakened as a chief executive to push through.

3. Single out the most important of your proposals for emphasis. Rescuing Social Security. Keeping the military strong. Putting more cops on the street. Making long-term health care affordable for families. Helping communities to set aside open space. Better education for our children.

Each of these proposals addresses a need. They matter. These are real life issues that confront Americans, and the people want to hear what their impeached president has to say.

Pub Date: 1/19/99

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