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End of the affair.

It seems captious to carp and cavil at Bill Clinton when he hasn't even been inaugurated yet. American tradition calls for a kinder course - a grace period or "honeymoon" for a new President, a few months, at least, when the press and the public and even the Congressional opposition will allow the newest occupant of the White House to find his way around, to set up shop, without having to endure the inevitable criticism and complaints.

Even on the left, some have been arguing that we must "give Bill a break." His ill-tempered outburst in December at feminist leaders who had publicly urged the appointment of more women to high Government posts is cited as an example of the risk of alienating the President-to-be. Right now, the honeymooners contend, when the new Administration is taking shape, we should say and do nothing that might persuade the President that progressives are not his friends. Rather, we should demonstrate that we are "team players" who can be counted on to be grateful for our victories and gracious about our defeats. In that way, we are told, we'll have a place at the table when policies are formed and decisions made.

It is difficult to imagine a more counterproductive course. Our influence with the Clinton Administration - if we ever had any - slips away day by day as we fail to respond to the most ominous portents of promises to be betrayed. During Clinton's election campaign, disaffected left-liberals and radicals were urged to swallow their bile and help defeat George Bush. Now we're told to be patient until the new President's program has been formulated and presented to Congress. But then it will be too late to have even minimal effect on Clinton's positions or to engage in credible protest against them.

Change, it must be remembered, was the watchword of the Clinton campaign. His promise, explicit and implicit, was to present Americans with something dramatically different from, and better than, the twelve years of Reagan/Bush plutocracy. He would address human needs, reverse economic decline, and restore hope and dignity to a demoralized America. That's the prospect that got Clinton elected. It's the prospect that is fading fast.

"Bill Clinton is preparing to walk away from some of his campaign promises," The Wall Street Journal reported early in January, noting that the incoming Administration "faces a much bigger budget deficit" than he had anticipated. "Simply put," The Journal added, "Mr. Clinton cannot keep all his campaign pledges, which call for halving the deficit and increasing Federal spending and cutting taxes on the middle class.... Even if the deficit outlook hadn't changed, Mr. Clinton would have had a tough time sticking to the plan laid out last summer in the campaign manifesto, |Putting People First,' because some of the estimates were exaggerated."

Precisely the same message has been emanating from Clinton's transition team. As one astute editorial cartoonist put it, the famous campaign-headquarters sign that read, It's the Economy, Stupid, has been replaced by one that states, Lower Expectations, Stupid. Among the expectations we are apparently expected to lower is that the Administration will move swiftly and decisively to institute a a fair and cost-effective reform of our scandalously expensive and inadequate health-care system. We're now advised that the reform will be modest - and delayed. Job-creation programs, Clinton's advisers say, will have to be scaled back because of the budget deficit. Even Clinton's flat promise to lift the ban on gays and lesbians in the military, which has no particular cost component, is now officially described as so "complex" that the new Administration will have to proceed with extreme caution.

The Clinton Cabinet contains, to be sure, an unprecedented and praiseworthy number of women and minority appointees, and the positive symbolism of such choices is not to be denied. But even here, we can't help but wonder whether a degree of manipulative cynicism hasn't been at work. Ronald Brown, Clinton's nominee as Secretary of Commerce, is black; he is also a long-time lobbyist for some of America's more predatory corporate interests. Hazel O'Leary, the first woman named to head the Department of Energy, is a vice president and lobbyist for Northern States Power Company, described by The Washington Post as "a huge Minneapolis-based utility that operates three nuclear plants and has had highly publicized disputes with state regulators over disposition of its nuclear waste. Zoe Gray, the first woman to serve as Attorney General, will go to the Justice Department from Aetna Life and Casualty Company, where she helped compile an appalling record of anticonsumer activism.

How would these appointments have been received if commendable Cabinet diversity had not obscured the troubling backgrounds of the nominees?

Other Clinton selections are no less worrisome. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, as Secretary of the Treasury, will head an economic team rigged toward the right-toward tax privileges for the rich, lax regulation of banks and savings-and-loans, and utter contempt for the needs of ordinary Americans. Warren Christopher, as Secretary of State, represents the old, Cold Warschooled foreign-policy establishment. Representative Les Aspin, the warmest friend the military-industrial complex ever had, will be Secretary of Defense. Robert James Woolsey, who feels equally at home in the extreme right wings of both the Democratic and Republican parties, will head the Central Intelligence Agency.


To these wholly unsatisfactory appointments, to the growing signs of an across-the-board retreat even from Clinton's modest campaign pledges, to the mounting evidence that the new Administration will conduct business as usual, the response has been puzzled murmurs rather than outcries of indignation and rage. The labor movement has run for cover. Advocates for consumers, workers, and the poor have, for the most part, remained silent. Perhaps everyone is still basking in the glow of George Bush's defeat.

Euphoria is a luxury we can't afford. It's time to go about the business of building a just society in the United States. Elsewhere, in this issue, Manning Marable presents a thoughtful program of political action for the long run. For the short run, our best course is to hold the Clinton Administration accountable as if it were just another bunch of Republicans in office. In all too many ways, it is.
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Title Annotation:Bill Clinton campaign promises broken
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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