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Clinton's hot kitchen.

Lyndon Johnson, I.F. Stone once observed, wasn't content to be commander-in-chief of America's armed forces; he wanted to be editor-in-chief of the nation's newspapers, as well. It's a common Presidential affliction. John Kennedy complained he was "reading more but enjoying it less," and canceled the White House subscription to an unfriendly daily. No one needs to be reminded of Richard Nixon's profound antipathy toward the press, or Ronald Reagan's, or George Bush's. And now Bill Clinton, sounding like a Bush clone, is bellyaching about "the knee-jerk liberal press." There's something about working in the Oval Office that seems to thin the skin.

What tripped Clinton's trigger was a question posed by Bill Greider during an interview for Rolling Stone magazine. Greider, the author of Who Will Tell the People, last year's outstanding book about U.S. politics, asked about the depth of Clinton's commitment to the principles he professed to believe in. The President objected to that as "a highly critical, personal statement ... a very personal attack." And he volunteered that he was sick and tired of such comments.

"I have fought more damn battles here for more things than any President has in twenty years," Clinton said, "with the possible exception of Reagan's first budget, and not gotten one damn bit of credit from the knee-jerk liberal press, and I am sick and tired of it, and you can put that in your damn article."

Well, now. It all depends, we suppose, on one's perspective, and the perspective from the White House isn't very reliable. To begin with, despite the fulminations of Rush Limbaugh and his right-wing ilk, there isn't much of a "knee-jerk liberal press" - or any other kind of liberal press - out here in America. Except for Rolling Stone and a few other magazines, the field belongs to two kinds of conservative media: those that call themselves "moderate" and those that don't. If Clinton believes that there is a "knee-jerk liberal press," that tells us more about the company he's been keeping than about the media.

For another thing, the President has been getting a free ride or something pretty close to it. To be sure, he came under heavy media criticism last spring, when it seemed his new Administration could get nothing right. There was the silly business of the $200 haircut, the botched appointments to the Justice Department, the other fumbles when it came to filling high-level or mid-range Government positions. But many of the Administration's serious blunders and retreats have received remarkably little scrutiny and even less adverse comment.

There was Clinton's embrace of the Bush Administration's cruel policy toward Haitian boat people - a policy that Clinton had denounced during the Presidential campaign. There was Clinton's swift surrender on gay and lesbian rights in the military; as Nadine Strossen of the ACLU points out, the Administration's new "don't ask, don't tell" policy is worse than no change at all, since it strips military personnel of First Amendment free-speech rights. There was t e rejection a fight of any health-care proposal that might curtail the role of the insurance giants. There was the indefinite postponement of Clinton's campaign pledge to raise minimum wages. There was the all-out push for the NAFTA treaty avidly sought by multinational corporations and the President's cheap-shot attacks on labor unions for opposing it. There was the rocket raid on the civilian population of Baghdad in retaliation for the unproven and apparently nonexistent Iraqi plot to assassinate George Bush.

This is a short and arbitrary list, to which we could add the perpetuation of a bloated military budget, the all-out support of Russia's antidemocratic Yeltsin regime, and the submission of a meaningless "crime" bill. Are these the actions for which Clinton wants "one damn bit of credit from the knee-jerk liberal press"? Is this his solid record of first-year achievements?

We know - because Bill Clinton keeps telling us - that he wants the American people to think of him as "a new Democrat." He's that, all right, but it turns out that a new Democrat is all but indistinguishable from an old Republican. If that means more and more Americans are likely to find that their President comes up short, then Clinton had better study Harry Truman's advice: If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Or, at least, find yourself some new recipes. But don't whine and snivel abour an all too occasional unkind word from an all but invisible "knee-jerk liberal press."
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Title Annotation:the president's complaints about his liberal media coverage
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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