In 1992, America was in the middle of a recession, entangled in an inept aid mission in Somalia and facing an ever-growing deficit. In that election year, President Bush asked the American public if they felt better off than they were four years earlier. With their votes, the electorate answered no.
In 1996, inflation is down and employment is up. The budget deficit has shrunk four years in a row. There is peace in Bosnia and progress in the Middle East. GATT and NAFTA have expanded channels for free trade. Medicare and Medicaid are safe for the moment. Were President Clinton to pose the same question as his predecessor, the answer would be yes.
Success for the Clinton Administration has been hard-won and tempered by a string of early blunders. The Arkansas governor’s outsider status and idealistic vision were selling points in ’92, but upon arrival in Washington he soon learned the difficulty of building a political infrastructure from scratch. Clinton’s first two years were sloppy, marred by inconsistent cabinet appointments and policy decisions, as well as a high-profile failure to reform health care. Voters responded to the lack of promised progress by electing a Republican majority to Congress.
But in confronting the strong, overconfident opposition of Newt Gingrich and the ’94 freshman class, Clinton found his presidential identity. In a dramatic political turnaround, the president struck back at the conservative majority with veto after veto, effectively stalling the so-called Republican Revolution. At the same time, Clinton bolstered his international credibility through a series of foreign-policy successes, crowned by the Dayton Accords. The Clinton Administration got off to a slow start, but has gained momentum steadily. With each step forward the Republicans’ hope of recapturing the White House fades.
Bob Dole’s platform, built around an unrealistic 15 percent tax cut, represents a return to the same Reagan-Bush supply-side economics that led to exponential growth in the national debt over their combined 12 years in office. This economic about-face is doubly disturbing in that it is not only a reversal for the course of the country, but for Dole himself. Throughout his long and distinguished career on Capitol Hill, Dole rallied tirelessly against voodoo economics. To watch him mount a campaign on a proven ineffective economic philosophy, which he has historically opposed, smacks of election-year trickery. In this backward tax plan, Dole has told the nation that he is willing to compromise his own ideals to win the presidency.
Compromise has always been Bob Dole’s stock in trade. As Senate majority leader, he was characterized by his uncanny ability to get drastically opposed senators to bargain their way to consensus. That aptitude is imminently practical in congress, but the nation’s highest office requires a strong, clear vision for the future. Clinton has one; Dole does not.
A second Clinton term will face hurdles. Whitewater won’t go away, nor will Paula Jones. The president faces a mass exodus from his cabinet and White House staff. Legitimate questions have been raised about Democratic campaign finances. But if Clinton has proven anything, it is that he can surmount such obstacles and push the country forward at the same time. Clinton’s real progress toward the future he envisioned in 1992 has earned him this newspaper’s endorsement for another four years.