Fallows on Clinton: NPR Commentary
Atlantic Unbound

NPR Commentary -- January 23, 1995
by James Fallows

Clinton a "One-Termer"?

Apparently the main trait I share with President Clinton is that we've both watched Anthony Robbins infomercials on late night cable TV. Robbins's message is one of empowerment through mental focus, and I now feel focused enough to offer my own empowering tip. It is that President Clinton should assume that he will be a one-term president, and should use the time left to him as fully and joyously as he can.

Movies and TV shows often feature a character who learns he has a year to go before a tumor overtakes him, so he suddenly starts doing everything he always meant to do. The implied question of these shows is, Why don't we live this way all the time?

The same question applies in politics. The prospect of losing the race for re-election and being judged a pathetic "one termer" has become so burdensome to presidents that even the normally buoyant Bill Clinton seems to be trudging through his first term in dread of the verdict ahead. But suppose that the president stopped worrying about joining the ranks of Bush and Carter and instead rejoiced in the fact that for two more years he'll have the most influential job in the most powerful country -- the best pulpit, the strongest negotiating point. If, as in the movies, the president knew that a tumor would remove him from office in two years, he would gratefully make use of every moment he had. Ironically, if he started governing as if he didn't care about the next election, the president would increase his chance of surviving it.

I also share a trait with Mrs. Clinton, which is that in the early 1960s both of us were members of Goldwater youth. As she starts repositioning herself she might ask whether this background has as much to do with her PR difficulties as does any backlash against strong women.

The true believers who flocked to Barry Goldwater's standards often did not remain conservative, but most of them retained a sense of righteousness about the pure, cold logic of their views. If others disagreed, the only explanation could be that they didn't understand well enough -- they were not clear or brave enough to follow ideas to their conclusion. This stance is annoying regardless of gender: David Stockman, when he was Ronald Reagan's budget director, projected the same icy and offputting certainty in the logical rightness of his belief. Bill Clinton, with his obvious appetites, would be the last person to claim that logic always controls emotions. But Hillary Clinton must fight against her Goldwater Youth heritage to allow the possibility that her logic might be wrong.

But I should remember that I might be mistaken about this. After all, I'm recovering too.

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Copyright © 1995, by James Fallows. All Rights Reserved.