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The First Citizen. Commander-in-Chief. Leader of the Free World. All are terms used to describe the President of the United States of America. They describe an office respected the world over, and a power of example one individual holds over 260 million constituents.
Unfortunately, President Clinton has lately lacked the leadership that would make him worthy of the above appellations. Clinton came into office at a time when the country was crying out for a leader, an individual who would promise to bring this country out of insecurity and set it on the road to success once again. Clinton asserted that he was the man for the job. Displaying a broad grasp of issues and what many felt was a sincere concern for solving the nation's problems, the new president was able to convince a plurality of the voters that he deserved to be their leader.
With leadership comes enormous responsibility and constant public scrutiny. Often people expect too much of their elected officials, forgetting that they are human beings as well. But every leader from Moses to Richard Nixon has either had to meet the high standard or pay the price. Bill Clinton is certainly no exception.
Clinton has accomplished much in his first year, perhaps more than George Bush did in his entire presidency. The Freedom of Choice Act, national service incentives and a revamped tax code are all welcome changes Clinton pushed through a previously gridlocked Congress. And the fact that Clinton has had to compromise on many of these issues does not significantly diminish his achievements. After all, he only got 43 percent of the national vote. Henry Clay is viewed as one of the country's finest legislators, and he makes it into the history books as "The Great Compromiser."
Clinton has personal problems, to be sure--he may not be a model of morality--but intimations of adultery shouldn't affect his ability to pursue bold policy changes. After all, Americans elected this man even after he essentially admitted on 60 Minutes that he had been an unfaithful husband. The Arkansas state troopers' latest allegations of infidelity renew Clinton's credibility problem with the public, but they are not the central problem with his presidency.
So where has Clinton dropped the ball when it comes to leadership? Like a scared child, he has too often backed away from making simple decisions, and has become disturbingly invisible at times when public confidence in the presidency has waned.
During Clinton's campaign, he pledged to integrate gays into the military. He could have accomplished this simple goal through simple action. In the tradition of Truman, Clinton merely needed to issue an executive order on day one of his administration. Instead, because he feared--somewhat correctly--that he lacked credibility with the military, he began an extensive consultation on how to deal with the problem. Mistake number one.
The Clinton administration broached the topic ever-so-cautiously. That left ample opportunity for Colin Powell, the darling of the American public whose position on gays in the military was well known, to sway people to his side of the argument. A four-star general versus a draft dodger? No contest.
But errors more egregious were yet to come. After finally agreeing on a controversial "don't ask-don't tell" policy, completely unacceptable to the gays Clinton promised to help, the administration continued along its bungling way. A federal court ordered a gay Navy sailor to be reinstated after it ruled the Navy's discrimination against him unconstitutional. The administration has decided to challenge the ruling on the grounds that the judicial branch had overstepped its authority.
Clinton went to law school, albeit at Yale. He should know that once a case has been appealed, it is once again an "open book," and all parts of it are subject to review. As a result, the administration is now running the risk that a higher court will throw out the lower court's entire interpretation of equal protection under the Constitution. Or perhaps Clinton is really running no risk at all. For fear of taking a beating in the press, Clinton cares more about preserving his new fragile regulations than fighting for the cause he espoused during the election. He would have been better off hiding behind the court's decision and washing his hands of the matter.
The recent Whitewater affair is even more troubling. Attorney General Janet Reno waited until yesterday to appoint Robert Fiske Jr., a former U.S. Attorney, as special prosecutor for the case. Some of the documents he must review are subject to statutes of limitations under Arkansas state law. By waiting this long, Reno may have helped to obscure a great deal of the truth about Clinton's Arkansas land dealings.
Reno had claimed she needed Congress to renew the Independent Counsel Act, but that simply was not true. Yesterday, she did what she could have done all along: called for a special prosecutor outside of her department. Better yet, her boss could have ordered her to do so, proving he had nothing to hide and helping to clear the air around him.
Yet Clinton was largely silent throughout the entire affair. It had been unnerving to turn to the papers every day and see "administration officials," "sources close to the White House" and other nebulous characters responding to the charges. And the president still has not taken any initiative to help the public discern between truth and rumor.
Another campaign pledge, this one to establish the highest ethical standards Washington has ever seen, seems to be falling by the wayside. By blurring the public's understanding of Whitewater, Clinton may think he is shifting blame around to protect himself. In fact, he is only hurting his chances of appearing honest.
This president still has hope; public opinion can change. In 1991, didn't the press proclaim George Bush invincible? To avoid Bush's fate, Clinton must indicate clearly his vision for the country. Compromise is often necessary, but even Henry Clay knew enough to use it only as a last resort.
The best politicians display solid leadership in order to avoid the need for excessive and constant compromises. The president will need the public faith if he is to be at all successful with his much needed upcoming health care reform proposals. Hopefully, for the sake of the country, he can lead us into the next century as an invigorated, optimistic and honest nation.
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