Although Bill Clinton was handily reelected President, in some strange and perverse way it seems as if Bob Dole has won the election. The recent developments in national and international politics, such as the mass exodus of senior members of the Clinton administration from Washington, are oddly incongruous with Clinton's electoral triumph.
The word "liberal" and even the word "Democrat" still seem to be taboo. Clinton has not asserted the mandate that voters handed to him. Instead, his new mantra is the word "bipartisan," which frequently means capitulation to the Republican agenda rather than constructive cooperation between the parties. One of the Clinton's first policy pronouncements after Election Day was his decision to try to appoint some prominent Republicans to his cabinet. Admittedly, appointing a moderate conservative--Colin Powell, perhaps--to a cabinet post would not be especially unusual. However, Clinton's decision to court Republicans so soon after his re-election suggests that the President has suffered a humiliating political emasculation.
Another example of Clinton's political weakness is his decision to oppose granting United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali a second five-year term. The United States is the only nation on the UN Security Council that is fighting Boutros-Ghali's reappointment--and the first Security Council vote on this issue was 14-1. The Clinton administration can barely conceal that it is not opposed to Boutros-Ghali based on ideological reasons or because of disagreements with the policies he has pursued and endorsed. No, the Clinton administration refuses to support Boutros-Ghali because it is afraid of arousing the ire of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), a hard-line reactionary whose world view has scarcely changed since the dawn of the Cold War. The many resignations of prominent Clinton staffers also reflect the President's political weakness. Granted, some, such as Energy Secretary Hazel R. O'Leary, have been forced out. But Senior Adviser George Stephonopolous, Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta and Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich are all leaving voluntarily. Yesterday, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler announced his decision to resign. Ironically, Bob Dole vowed to fire Kessler if he was elected.
Kessler and Reich both cited family concerns as their reasons for leaving, claiming they wanted to spend more time with their wives and young children. Perhaps such resignations are merely, a harbinger of a new era of kinder, gentler '90s people who are willing to renounce influential careers so that they can attend their children's afternoon soccer games. But the mass defections from the White House also seem to imply that people are trying to get off the ship before it goes down. Why else would so many key players walk away from a winning team?
Clinton's Republicrat antics have been familiar to all Americans who have even an elementary knowledge of political affairs. If Clinton seems even more timid now, perhaps his current bout of spinelessness is due to the Republicans' electoral gains in the Senate and their continued control of the House of Representatives. Also, although I hate to encourage the sort of unfounded rumors and conjecture that have fueled scandals such as Whitewater, the White House Travel Office firings, the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit and even Vincent W. Foster's suicide, perhaps Clinton is trying not to tread on any toes because he does have ethical skeletons in his closet. Washington gossip has suggested that Special Prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr has another round of indictments up his sleeve. And if Clinton's past ethical dilemmas are not serious enough, the latest scandal involving illegal campaign contributions from the Indonesian Lippo Group has heaped even more disrepute on the White House.
Earlier this week, Walter Cronkite said he was disappointed that David Brinkley apologized to Clinton for the biting comments he had made about the President on election night. Cronkite rightly pointed out that Brinkley's comments were accurate--the way things are going now, Bill Clinton will only give us four more years of "nonsense."
David W. Brown's column appears on alternate Wednesdays.