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Jewish World Review June 5, 2000 / 2 Sivan, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Consumer Reports

Clinton's odd silence
on his achievements -- BILL CLINTON begins the last summer of his presidency with an uncertain legacy. The sordid episodes, involving Monica Lewinsky and money raising, are written. Yet to reach the printers are the chapters on economics, trade, social justice, foreign policy and party leadership.

Oddly enough, Clinton remains as tongue-tied in showcasing his contributions as he has been in confessing his abuses. Rather than offer some grand public accounting, he seems intent on hedging his bets.

He is the most pro-trade Democrat since John F. Kennedy yet seems strangely ashamed of that distinction. He won approval in Congress of the North American Free Trade Agreement and expects to establish permanent normal trade relations with China, but in both cases he avoided the national, primetime appeal that put all the marbles on the table. Even in triumph, he has acted as if some other team scored the victory.

He signed the welfare reform bill, a step that sealed his re-election. Yet here again he has refused to take a bow.

He pushed through the deficit-destroying budget of 1993 but apologized later for the tax hikes that were at its heart.

He fought the air war in Kosovo but failed to (a) bring the country into the battle with a national call-to-arms, and (b) take credit afterwards for having honored the post-Holocaust commitment of "never again!"

He began a national dialogue on race but let it fade. He takes up verbal arms against the gun lobby but sends signals that, unlike Vice President Al Gore, he is not a man that gun owners should fear. He is not the type to go man-to-man with Charlton Heston any more than he's the kind to arm-wrestle with Jesse Helms over an ambassadorial appointment.

You could conjure excuses for these failures of grandeur, of course. Clinton didn't want to brag about the economy getting stronger when some at the bottom remained stagnant. He couldn't brag about free trade with labor calling globalism an evil empire and two-thirds of his party opposing him.

He couldn't take credit for signing a welfare bill that ended the poor's entitlement to a minimum income. He couldn't brag about cutting deficits if it meant taking enduring blame for raising taxes. He couldn't show pride in Kosovo, not knowing the ultimate outcome in that Balkan powder keg.

But the net effect is to send Clinton packing next January with a plethora of tasks and successes behind him, an uncertain legacy before him.

Maybe Clinton fears contradiction, worries that future events will overtake and diminish what he's done. Perhaps he lacks the same faculty for bragging that he has lacked for confessing, that some unadvertised quirk of humility accompanies his infamous talent for denying.

It could be that the guy simply needs a better speechwriter.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


06/02/00: Pelosi, a voice for human rights
05/30/00: Bubba's escape hatches
05/23/00: Who typifies leadership?
05/19/00: Bubba's legacy involves AIDS
05/16/00: Dubyah's outlook for 'playoffs' remains perilous
05/11/00: Giuliani's travels
05/09/00: A Yale degree, a Bob Jones education
05/03/00: Show of force!
05/01/00: Abortion polls don't reflect reality
04/28/00: Bill Russell and American racism
04/24/00: Vietnam 25 -- The good, bad and ugly
04/19/00: Nader's threat to Gore in California
04/17/00: Berkeley politician visits with Elian's father
04/14/00: Clinton and the Castro curse
04/11/00: Men who saved Elián from the sea
04/06/00: Caine should coach politicians
04/03/00: No. 2 spots: Woman-to-woman?
03/29/00: Gray for veep and Gore might coast to victory
03/27/00: The secret life of a CIA wife
03/22/00: 'We're suckers for underdogs'
03/20/00: Bush's California dream vs. reality
03/06/00: Scary Gore vs. hopeful Bush
03/06/00: McCain's appeal to 'Reagan Democrats'
03/01/00: John McCain fits a hero's profile
02/28/00: Grading the American presidents
02/25/00: Clinton remains No. 1 issue
02/23/00: Will Ross Perot aid POW McCain?
02/18/00: McCain faces fury of GOP establishment
02/17/00: Citizen Springer
02/14/00: McCainia and the frisky independents
02/07/00: A prime-time primary for California
02/02/00: Clinton's final campaign: Take the blame
01/31/00: Which GOPer is willing to pay for his positions?
01/27/00: John McCain's gay radar
01/25/00: This time, candidates get 'authenticity' check
01/18/00: AIDS dooms 1 in 4 in tiny Swaziland
01/13/00: Complacency might be the campaign key
01/10/00: A choice, not an echo
01/06/00: The role of a lifetime
01/03/00: Dangers in Gore's dirty war
12/30/99: Churchill's fighting words saved the century
12/28/99: Candidate Gore's separation anxiety
12/17/99: Catch 22: Leading candidates don't lead
12/17/99: New Democratic leader on the horizon
12/15/99: Is Hillary clueless?
12/08/99: Taking Buchananism to the streets
12/03/99: Why are we so obsessed with 'spin'?
12/01/99: Donald Trump, 'Sinatra of Steel'
11/29/99: Why AlGore will be our next president
11/23/99: After the fall
11/17/99: Our conveniently forgetful president
11/15/99: Next president: Male, WASP, self-selected
11/10/99: Backroom Bill
11/08/99: Please don't feed the 'pander bears'
11/03/99: Battle of the Bubba clones
11/01/99: Pat Buchanan, kamikaze candidate
10/27/99: The year of the woman... voter
10/25/99: The Curse of the Bubba
10/21/99: GOP gives Clinton his finest hour
10/18/99: Clinton's last hurrah
10/13/99: Rough seas for Capt. Ventura
10/11/99: Gore targets Bradley's strength
10/06/99: Bradley's got the right Rx
10/04/99: Buchanan, Churchill and Hitler
09/30/99: Who'll spin political gold in Golden State — Gore or Bradley?
09/27/99: Here's a millennial checklist for candidates
09/22/99: The biography battle
09/20/99: Buchanan's new book is a must-read
09/15/99: Don't rule out Beatty
09/13/99: The man with the sun on his face
09/08/99: W. vs. Jr. on dope and the draft
The FALN: Hillary's Willie Horton
08/26/99: Bill's guilt fuels Hill's race
08/25/99: The seemingly inexhaustible strength of America's free enterprise
08/23/99: GOP candidates are weak also-rans
08/16/99: Bubba on Bubba
08/11/99: Hillary's agonizing attempts to understand
08/09/99: With warm regards, Richard Nixon
08/04/99: Weicker: real third party is on the Left
08/02/99: Dubyah's last hangover
07/27/99: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; capitalism is gonna win

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