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Western Press Review: Clinton's 'State Of The Union' Speech

  • Don Hill

Prague, 6 February 1997 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton delivered the first "State of the Union" address of his second term Tuesday calling for a domestic education program to make "American education, like America itself, the envy of the world." But he also devoted a fifth of his speech to foreign policy issues -- trade, arms treaties, China, and NATO expansion.

This emphasis came at a time when U.S. budget constraints have made America the world's leading nonpayer of dues to international organizations and have severely shrunk the availability of U.S. dollars for international activities. Press commentary on the speech varies widely, calling its message "modest," action packed, short on implementation ideas, a "laundry list," a welcome turn to political civility, and a "blueprint for Clinton's second term."

NEW YORK TIMES: Clinton is now running for a place in history

The paper said yesterday in an editorial: "After a lifetime of running for office, President Clinton is now said to be running for a place in history. On Tuesday night, he may have set some kind of laundry-list record for State of the Union messages by unveiling dozens of proposals to improve education, expand health care, fight crime, employ people on welfare, explore outer space, clean up rivers, and carry out other projects." The Times added: "Missing from the address was a clear outline of how he intends to pay for it."

The editorial said: "Another sure sign that Clinton had his eye on history lay in his emphasis on international issues. His appeal for rapid Senate approval of the chemical weapons convention and for payment of debts and dues to the World Bank and the United Nations reflected an overdue recognition that these issues will not be acted on unless he throws his prestige behind them. "

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Trade and education were of lasting significance

In today's edition, an editorial signed by Stefan Kornelius says: "After a year of shallow rhetoric and soft election campaign talk, American politics has reverted to its normal language. Traditionally the president's State of the Union address is the instrument used to push on with the country's political agenda." The editorial continues: "Two points above all in his address will be of lasting significance: trade and education. Clinton made it unmistakably clear that free world trade is essential to the prosperity of the United States as the world's leading export nation. It is so essential that it is obviously gaining priority over foreign and human rights policy constraints."

The editorial concludes: "This President's greatest merit will be declaring the end-of-the-century agenda a national task and creating a climate of responsibility over and above individual political parties. He borrowed from his predecessor Harry Truman, who said almost 50 years ago, also in a State of the Union address, that if America failed it might jeopardize world peace and would certainly endanger the nation's own prosperity."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: The State of the Union was an exercise in civil political discourse

The paper editorialized today that the speech and the opposition Republican Party official response to it showed a hopeful civility. The Tribune said: "President Clinton, his ambitions downsized after a sobering first four years in office, gave a strong speech that was notable more for the spirit he attempted to evoke than for any concrete proposals. Equally important, Representative. J. C. Watts, Republican-Oklahoma., delivered a Republican 'response' that was worthy of the party of Lincoln, a message devoid of the vinegary grumpiness that has dominated the GOP's public image in recent years and that harked back to the can-do optimism of Ronald Reagan. In short, State of the Union night this year was an exercise in civil political discourse, and it gives hope that the river of bile that has flooded Washington in recent years may finally have crested and be receding."

L0NDON TIMES: Clinton's version of the U.S. budget will be unveiled today

The paper says today in an editorial: "The president, who on the same occasion 12 months ago pronounced the "era of big government" to be over, seemed inclined to embrace its resurrection." The British newspaper says: "Mr. Clinton's version of the U.S. budget will be unveiled today. Possibly, his expansive State of the Union address was intended to offer what will be a dry and disciplined document." The editorial concludes: "The less appealing possibility is that the president could choose to evade hard choices and rely on implausibly optimistic economic forecasts instead. In that case, Republicans rightly would be furious. They would see no point in bartering with the White House. Little of long-term value would be achieved in this term. It's for the president to decide."

BOSTON GLOBE: Clinton plans a more ambitious international agenda

Analysis by David L. Marcus in yesterday's edition -- "Clinton's foreign policy message in the State of the Union speech contained no surprises, but it did end with an emphatic plea to join the other 68 countries that have passed the Chemical Weapons Convention." Marcus wrote: "Clinton touched on several other developments abroad in his speech, including frictions between North and South Korea and plans to expand the NATO alliance in Eastern Europe. He praised Mexico for paying a loan ahead of schedule and called for peace in the Middle East, Northern Ireland and Africa. If the speech is a blueprint for Clinton's second term, it is an indication that he plans a more ambitious international agenda than he did four years ago."

TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT: The speech was a model of action

Editorial in today's edition of the Florida paper -- "The 'indispensable nation.' Though spoken by that most pragmatic of presidents, Bill Clinton, those words ring with the resonance of Lincoln's 'last best hope of mankind' and Roosevelt's 'arsenal of democracy' as watchwords of American idealism." The paper says: "Some would argue that Clinton's speech lacked fire, with few soaring points of eloquence upon which a distracted nation could take wing. But the speech was a model of action."

MIAMI HERALD: Clinton has built his foreign policy on global trade

Editorial in today's edition -- "Seeking to rally the American people and Congress's elusive bipartisan spirit, President Clinton used his State of the Union message to deliver a call for action. At peace and with a surging economy, the state of the nation is sound, he assured his listeners." The editorial concludes: "The president offered a quick tour d'horizon of the world's hot spots, but his focus remained on domestic issues. Global trade, on which he has built his foreign policy, is his measure of engagement and the nation's bridge to the 21st Century and the next millennium. It's a bridge that, at this point, the president seems more ready and eager to cross than either Congress or the American people."

SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS: Americans are not looking for big things from government

Editorial in today's San Jose (California) Mercury News -- "Bill Clinton's State of the Union speech Tuesday night was not one of a president triumphant, prepared to deploy finances and forces on new initiatives. It was, instead, a call to modest endeavors." The newspaper concludes: "Clinton, as usual, could leave no worthwhile program unmentioned. But his speech laid out a plan consistent with his campaign promises. Americans these days are not looking for big things from government. Clinton is not proposing them."