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Western Press Review: Farewell To Clinton, Hello To Bush

  • Don Hill

Prague, 19 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Much U.S. press commentary today succumbs to the temptation to comment on the end of the Clinton presidency tomorrow (Saturday).


The Washington Times, smaller and less well-known than the U.S. capital's other daily newspaper -- the Washington Post -- has been a consistent critic of President Bill Clinton. In an editorial today, the paper holds to its traditional line, writing: "At this late date -- the last day of Bill Clinton's presidency -- it's more than a little tempting to heed what are the most significant words of the Clinton years: It's time to move on [a phrase used by Clinton]."

The paper goes on to dismiss Clinton's eight-year presidential record with a barb: "The [Clinton administration's] strategic, administrative and emotional energies were harnessed mainly not to produce the centrist reforms Mr. Clinton promised during his 1992 presidential campaign, but to generate sufficient forward thrust to leave the detritus of scandal and deception in its wake."


The New York Times has often supported both the policies of Clinton and those of his Democratic Party. Its editorial says that Clinton, in his farewell speech to the nation last night, "made a final bid to be remembered as a man of accomplishment." The newspaper adds: "Mr. Clinton leaves office with extraordinarily high approval ratings, a sign perhaps that Americans are willing to hear the wisdom of departing leaders." It concludes: "In spite of the disappointments and costly personal lapses of his presidency, Mr. Clinton said goodbye last night in the spirit in which many Americans can remember him, one of facing up to a world in turmoil and striving to ease hatreds abroad and at home."


In the British daily Financial Times, commentator Gerard Baker joins his U.S. colleagues in assessing Clinton. Baker dismisses him as "an inconsequential president," writing: "The emerging consensus among supporters and critics alike is a somewhat sympathetic one. According to Dick Cheney, the vice president-elect, President Clinton was, in the end, a tragic figure, a man of uncommon political talents and some real achievements but a man also of great flaws."

Baker continues: "Some presidents, by the coincidence of time and chance, are shapers of their times. Others, whatever their political skills and personal shortcomings, are more or less shaped by them. To understand Mr. Clinton's role in an era of progress, peace and contentment, it is necessary to paraphrase the words of a predecessor who grappled with more momentous challenges [John F. Kennedy] -- 'Ask not what he did for his country. Ask what his country did without him.'"


A commentary by Neal Gabler in the Los Angeles Times [carried in today's IHT] says Clinton is a victim of "America's third great religious awakening." Gabler explains: "With the rise of the Christian right [in the 1980s, a] sustained religious crusade worthy of being called an awakening took hold -- a crusade that continues to this day. Like its predecessors [in the 18th and 19th centuries]," he continues, "the third great awakening is an effort to re-ignite religious fervor. It seeks to stem creeping secularism and the moral dissolution that it says accompanies secularism."

Gabler argues that "future historians will probably see Mr. Clinton's impeachment and trial as one of the major battles in an ongoing cultural war." Clinton, he says, "could have been secularism's poster child. Long before Americans heard of Monica Lewinsky, he was the personification of everything the [religious] awakeners detested." The commentary concludes: "Whether he comes to be viewed as champion of secular tolerance or symbol of immorality, Mr. Clinton will almost certainly be defined by his relationship to the third great awakening rather than by the achievements of his administration. For better or worse, that is his place in history."


R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., editor-in-chief of the magazine American Spectator and a prominent U.S. conservative commentator, writes in the Washington Times that Clinton is "an electoral fluke," that is he won office by an accidental occurrence. Tyrrell writes that in 1992 he said in a national telecast interview that Democratic presidential candidate Clinton had "more skeletons in his closet than a grave robber." The charge was true, Tyrrell writes now, and that's why the Clinton's "arrived [in the White House) with more insecurities than was understood at the time or is understood by much of the commentariat even to this day."


The Wall Street Journal Europe editorializes: "Bill Clinton is leaving the American stage to mixed reviews. Nobody in the U.S. is calling this presidency great." The editorial continues: "Outside the United States, the matter is otherwise. Bill Clinton, undeniably, is a star. He's a star in Ireland, in Vietnam, in Nigeria. He's a star with the working class, the thinking class, the governing class. He may not yet have won a Nobel, but the city fathers of Aachen, Germany, awarded him a prize granted to only two other Americans, Secretaries of State George Marshall and Henry Kissinger. In Israel, polls show he would win the upcoming prime ministerial elections hands down were he eligible to run."

The newspaper offers an explanation for the apparent contradiction. It says this of Clinton: "The president is a man who knows no enemies. He has so vastly expanded the category of America's strategic partnerships as to render the term meaningless. He is equally the friend of Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak, even if their two peoples are killing each other. He does not assign blame. He disavows responsibility. He does not inhale (a reference to an early Clinton admission that he one "tried" marijuana, but "didn't inhale.")

The editorial concludes: "A saying has it that a man without enemies is a man without friends." The Clinton legacy in the world is to have left America the poorer in real friendships, and hence the weaker in the face of its real enemies."

Turning to the prospects for George W. Bush's presidency, The Economist, London, identifies the difficult problems it foresees for Bush from the outset; and the Wall Street Journal Europe forecasts success for what it says will be an early major initiative.


The Economist says in an editorial: "It is easy to be cynical about Bush's prospects. Unlike Mr. Reagan, Mr. Bush won the narrowest of victories, and quite a lot of his opponents would even dispute that." The magazine offers a long list of what it calls dull, important and terribly difficult issues that will present themselves early on to Bush's government. The inaugural dances and celebrations will end abruptly, the publication says, and concludes: "Defined contribution schemes, prescription-drug benefits, adult-literacy levels: this is hardly glamorous stuff, even if you throw in a Reaganesque tax cut. But they matter enormously, and they will be devilishly hard to achieve. Mr. Bush's dancing days are numbered."


The Wall Street Journal Europe's Paul Gigot writes in a news analysis that many signs point to an excellent chance for Bush to win a large tax cut, despite critics' complaints that his proposal would reward the rich and virtually ignore the poor and middle class.

Gigot says, "This new tax-cut momentum is a credit to Mr. Bush's persistence. Recall that when he first proposed his tax cut, in December 1999, the pundit class said it'd cost him the election. His own political staff lobbied against cutting the top income-tax rate more than a token amount. He ignored them, and the result is that a big tax cut is likely to be among his first victories as president."