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United States: Washington Journal--Clinton Previews His Second Term

  • Kevin Foley

Washington, 13 December 1996 (RFE/RL) - U.S. President Bill Clinton offered a preview this week of what his second and final four-year term will be like, and he made it clear that he intends to govern directly from the political and ideological center.

"The center can hold, the center has held, and the American people are demanding that it continue to do so," Clinton declared. "Let us commit together to mobilizing that vital center. Let us spend the next 50 months to prepare America for the next 50 years."

The message is not new: Clinton campaigned for re-election in 1996 on a theme of restoring consensus to politics and government. However, the venue for his speech Wednesday was a reaffirmation of his commitment to create what the President has been calling "the vital, dynamic center."

Clinton, a Democrat, chose an annual meeting of the Democratic Leadership Council. This is a centrist-oriented policy research group that he helped form in 1985 when he was governor of the state of Arkansas.

"The ground has shifted beneath our feet, but we have clearly created a new center," Clinton said. "Not the lukewarm midpoint between overheated liberalism and chilly conservatism, but instead a place where throughout our history people of goodwill have tried to forge new approaches to new challenges."

There is an element of pragmatism in Clinton's plans for the next four years. He was the overwhelming victor in the November election. He received 49 percent of the vote to 40 percent for Republican Party candidate Robert Dole. However, the Republican Party still controls both houses of the U.S. Congress -- the House of Representatives and the Senate -- and Clinton must have cooperation from the Congress if he is to achieve his legislative goals.

Clinton made it clear again this week that his goals are not that much different from those of the Republicans.

"I stand ready to forge a coalition of the center -- a broad consensus for creative and consistent and unflinching action," Clinton said. "And I invite people of goodwill of all parties -- or no party -- to join in this endeavor."

The president said his first goal for the 1997 legislative year is an issue that is dear to Republicans, balancing the federal government's budget. He also pledged to reform government-funded health care programs to bring down their costs while still providing protection for Americans who need it most.

The president said his second objective will be to give young Americans the best education in the world. He said a key to achieving that goal is the establishment of national standards. Clinton made it clear at the same time that he is not advocating federal government control of local schools, but that he is advocating national standards of excellence, "and a means of measuring it so we know what our children are learning."

Clinton said another principal aim will be to "bring the underclass into the American mainstream." And he described the welfare reform legislation that he signed earlier this year as just one move in that direction.

"Our progress demands that we work together," Clinton said. "The issue is not what is liberal or conservative but what will move us forward together."

The president spoke of foreign policy goals at the end of his address.

"We have to finish the mission of building new structures of peace and security around the world," he said. "We must complete the unfinished business of the Cold War."

He said this unfinished business includes "building an undivided Europe of democracies of peace, with an expanded NATO and a strong NATO-Russian partnership."

Clinton's remarks to the Democratic Leadership Council were described as an advance version of his second inaugural address, which he will deliver on January 20 when he takes the oath of office for his second term. He is also expected to return to these themes again when he delivers the annual State of the Union message to the Congress early in February.