Facebook Twitter



The string has run out on President Clinton's campaign goal of looking presidential for as long as possible.

Clinton should formally announce his candidacy and drop the pretense that he's above the fray.Approving an ad that in essence called his opponent, Bob Dole, a quitter for announcing he'll resign from the Senate was not presidential.

Giving campaign speeches in the guise of commencement speeches is not presidential.

Pretending Whitewater has nothing to do with him is not presidential.

Insisting the United States is neutral in the Israeli and Russian elections while embracing the two incumbents is not statesmanlike.

One-upping Dole by saying one day before Dole's scheduled speeches that he, too, is against same-sex marriages, for youth curfews or for the Wisconsin welfare plan is not presidential. It's simply pragmatic.

At this point, attacking Dole, which Clinton seems itching to do, is not smart politics. Dole is being much shrewder by saying nothing, for example, about the Little Rock jury verdict. Letting others do the talking while pressing on with his agenda is a much wiser course than braying about it.

Clinton should concentrate on laying out his arguments for being re-elected. His prime arguments are that the economy is in good shape; the annual deficit is down to about $130 billion, reversing 12 years of Republican increases; and U.S. peace initiatives have had a major impact around the world.

The Clintons should quit being cute about the character issue. A prime example is suggesting, as Hillary Clinton did in an outrageously cynical interview with Time magazine, that she and her husband might be trying to have a second child or might adopt a child during a second term.

The Clintons should also stop whining about the poor press they get. And so should Dole. There is no press conspiracy, liberal, conservative or otherwise. There is no monolithic press. In this country the press is free and varied. Talk shows on TV and radio, newspapers, newsletters, cable TV stations, magazines, the Internet and even the often pointless megaphones of late-night comedians are all part of "the media."

And "the media" is very competitive.

While we're at it, we might as well stop talking about the "bully pulpit" of the White House as if it is a sacred trust. Presidents are no longer seen as great moral leaders; they are politicians. Yes, they frequently make moral pronouncements, such as urging children to stay in school, not smoke and not have babies. That's fine.

But, like it or not, a singer such as Madonna or an athlete such as Dennis Rodman probably have as much impact on values as the president. Or more.

That is not to say that "character" is not important. It is and always will be central to how Americans elect their political leaders. But character means different things to different people.

Americans have a lot to think about before they finally cast their votes Nov. 5. Many will be worrying about who is the better leader to take the country into the dawn of a new century. Most will be fretting about what the global economy means for the average worker.

There's a certain awe at seeing the start of a new millennium, coupled with the scary-but-exciting realization that if there are as many changes in the next hundred years as there have been in the past century, daily living won't be the same for most of us.

The 1996 campaign is not starting off on a high note. If the serious issues don't get discussed with more depth than they have been so far, tomorrow's historians may shake their heads in dismay.

Concepts such as high-minded or far-sighted or thoughtful or presidential may not even be mentioned in the historical accounts of the last presidential election of the 20th century.