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Western Press Review: The Road Ahead For Clinton

  • Joe Schneider

Prague, 7 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - U.S. President Bill Clinton's re-election continues to dominate the editorial pages on both sides of the Atlantic, with pundits concentrating on forecasts of what Clinton may try to achieve in the next four years.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Bosnia will be Clinton's first foreign policy test

In reference to Clinton's famous 1992 quote, that the main issue of that election "is the economy, stupid," the paper headlined its editorial today, "Now it's the world, stupid." After asking "Will Mr. Bill Clinton, who once proudly abjured foreign policy pretensions, now (turn from the home front to the wider world)" the FT says "There is every incentive (because) the Republican-controlled Congress will want to shape the domestic agenda."

The FT says "Mr. Clinton -- after the painful early learning curve -- has shown himself capable of a surer touch in foreign affairs over the past year. His task now is to translate that into leadership." The newspaper says Clinton's first test will come in Bosnia. "The allies must shortly decide on extending their military presence into next year, and without US troops, the effort will fall apart. The world is watching," the editorial concludes.

LONDON GUARDIAN: Clinton is expected to take an active global role

Ian Black writes "expectations of an active global role await a re-elected Bill Clinton, from pursuing more balanced diplomacy in the Middle East, through peace-making in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, to finding a new United Nations secretary-general....European Union members, including Britain, want to see a softer line from Washington on extra-territorial trade sanctions: the Helms-Burton Act on Cuba and parallel legislation against Iran and Libya were both driven by domestic lobbies which had to be accommodated in a campaign year," says Black.

NEW YORK TIMES: Clinton must force Congress to respond to his initiatives

The Times however, says Clinton must concentrate on the domestic agenda. In its editorial today, the newspaper said: "There can be no question about his mandate. The American people express their clearest opinion about what they want government to do through their choice of chief executive. In his campaign Clinton described a government that is efficient and cost-conscious but nonetheless uses its powers to improve schools, preserve our natural resources and protect the weak and the ostracized. It is his duty to follow through."

The newspaper goes on to say: "President Clinton must take the lead. For the last two years he has been an artful defensive strategist, allowing the Republican Congress to expose its worst excesses and offering himself as a safer, more moderate alternative. But 1997 cannot be a replay of 1995. For all their errors, the Republicans seized intellectual leadership in Washington over the last two years, capturing the nation's attention and dictating the policy debate's terms. Now Clinton must set the agenda and force Congress to respond to his legislative initiatives."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Clinton won on conservative terms

While the "New York Times" believes the American people gave Clinton a clear mandate, the British paper calls his victory "pyrrhic." The Telegraph says "When compared with where he (Clinton) stood in November 1992, he is still immeasurably weaker. Then, he enjoyed the prestige of having knocked out an experienced incumbent, not to mention Democratic control of the legislative branch. Today, he still has neither...nor....even that magical majority of voters, which confers so much legitimacy on a president....Indeed, he has no mandate to do much of anything, save what the Congressional Republicans permit. Mr. Clinton has won on conservative terms, co-opting every right-wing theme, from welfare reform to undermining Fidel Castro."

TORONTO STAR: Clinton's victory is a repudiation of the conservative agenda

That's not the way Canada's paper sees it however. It sees Clinton's victory as a repudiation of the conservative agenda. In its editorial, the Star says: "Bill Clinton's win is a sharp reminder that while North Americans may be in a decidedly conservative mood, they don't want to dismantle government. Newt Gingrich's neo-conservative revolution is clearly out of steam. Even Bob Dole's promise of a breathtaking $550 billion tax cut, and his offer to haul Washington right out of peoples' faces, failed to catch fire with voters...If there was a message in the otherwise lackluster U.S. campaign it was that government by the people, for the people, still counts for something even in an age of shrunken expectations, smaller bureaucracies and austere budgets."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Realism extinguished revolutionary rhetoric

And in a second editorial on the issue, the paper supports that view. It says: "The leaders of the House of Representatives have watched the waves of realism extinguish most of their revolutionary rhetoric. Mr. Gingrich will now be quieter and more consensual...If the "New Democrat" themes that Mr. Clinton articulated during the campaign are indeed his agenda, then the White House should find it perfectly possible to bargain with its opponents. The end result, a conservative direction in policy, but at a calmer pace with a softer tone, would accurately reflect the electorate's preferences."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Clinton's re-election machine was a model

While editorial writers look at what's ahead for Clinton, a number of analysts are looking back at why his campaign turned out so successfully. William Neikirk says: "Few campaigns can match the relentless efficiency of President Clinton's re-election machine of 1995 and 1996. It established a model that will be dissected time and again and doubtlessly will inspire frequent imitation as the "how-to" book for incumbents...He relied upon the power of the status quo and his own incredible luck and natural political gifts. His campaign -- and his victory -- had none of the excitement of 1992, but it was better planned and better executed."

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: Women were decision makers in the election

Susan Yoachum says women deserve the credit for Clinton's re-election, as well. She writes: "It's the year of the woman again. By overwhelmingly choosing Bill Clinton for president, women -- whether "soccer moms" or not -- were the decision makers in the 1996 race. It...was an election where women favored Clinton over GOP nominee Bob Dole by a whopping 17 percent margin...From issues of family leave to choice (on abortion) to education, Clinton consistently appealed to women as he worked the country for votes." But Yoachum also notes: "It was an election marked by the lowest turnout in nearly 75 years."

LONDON GUARDIAN: Only 49 percent of eligible citizens voted

The low U.S. turnout was a topic of a number of analyses and editorials in the western press. The paper says in its editorial: "So Bill Clinton won nearly 50 percent of the popular vote; a triumph for a president who in mid-term was being labelled a probable loser. But only the same percentage of all eligible citizens could be bothered to vote at all: a failure which had been predictable all along. Once again, the election of the world's most powerful president in the world's greatest democracy falls a long way short of the ideal....Not only is the 49 percent of eligible citizens who voted the lowest for decades; it has happened in spite of 11 million new voters being registered through 'motor voting' and similar procedures to make registration easier. Special efforts had been made to recruit the young, the poor and the black, yet they remain the categories least likely to vote and the most vulnerable in society. Should this not be the real challenge for those building bridges to a new century?"

WASHINGTON POST: Political parties are leaving out many mainstream voters

Barbara Vobejda attempts to explain the low voter turnout. She quotes Curtis B. Gans, director of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate as saying: "Turnout was down in every state and was the lowest since 1924 and the second lowest since 1824... Gans offered numerous explanations for Tuesday's poor turnout, most of them related to modern campaigning that relies heavily on short-term polling and television. He contends the political parties are leaving out many mainstream voters with their appeals at the margins of the political spectrum and are relying less on grass-roots organizations, which have traditionally mobilized voters. 'Put all those together and you've got real powerful reasons why people aren't voting,' he said."