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Clinton’s slicker than many think

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Rocky Mountain News, January 18, 1994

Assessments of President Clinton’s first year are all over the place. Liberal media savants — from commentator Lars-Erik Nelson to New Yorker editor Sidney Blumenthal — support Clinton and work nearly full time defending, explaining or advocating the new president to the American people.

Conservative media mavens — from talk radio and TV superstar Rush Limbaugh to National Review publisher Bill Buckley — generally portray the new administration as led by “Bumblin Bill,” who, from time to time, does something right — such as NAFTA.

These differences were found last week in Colorado Springs, where Colorado Republicans showed up by the hundreds for their annual Republican Leadership Program. RLP, an initiative of former U.S. Senate candidate and term-limits guru Terry Considine, is designed to help GOP newcomers and veterans address issues and politics with their own leaders and with nationally recognized analysis and partisan sages.

This year’s session included addresses by conservative pundit Mona Charen, a regular on CNN’s Crossfire whose weekly column appears in the News, and philosopher-activist William Kristol, both of whom noted that the debate about Clinton’s performance also reflects a Republican dilemma: Even when Bill Clinton’s approval ratings go down — to a low of 37% last spring — the Republican numbers don’t go up.

Many Colorado grassroots leaders looked at Clinton’s first year and saw fumbling, ineptitude and drift — the $200 haircut, failed attorney general nominations, the Waco fiasco, the mishandled Foster suicide and the Whitewater affair, befuddled foreign policy (in Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti, NATO, Russia), and Republican bailouts by Newt Gingrich on NAFTA and by David Gergen on spin control.

By contrast, both Charen and Kristol disputed the “Bumblin Bill” view. Kristol was particularly clear: “This is an administration that knows exactly where it is going.” The new administration, according to Kristol, is pursuing a far-left-liberal economic, social and cultural agenda.

It began with the gays-in-the-military initiative, quick passage of family leave mandates on business, and the introduction of national service legislation, which emphasizes service to governmental and communitarian institutions. It included the so-called $46 billion economic stimulus package, the defeat of which by Congress has been validated by economic growth and falling unemployment.

Clinton’s left-liberal, Old Democrat agenda continued, according to Kristol, with an unprecedented tax-and-spend budget bill, which created the largest tax increase, the highest spending and the largest planned deficit in history — at $1.1 trillion, more than Reagan I, Reagan II or Bush.

The left-liberal agenda of both Clintons reached new heights with their health-care reform package, a program of socialized medicine in which the federal government would take control of nearly 15% of the U.S. economy — the largest government takeover in U.S. history.

So, where some see ineptitude, others see relentless and resourceful determination to change America’s touchstones — from family-based entrepreneurism to government-run communitarianism, from people running their own lives to self-styled elites calling the shots. My view: Republicans will see ineptitude at their own risk.

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