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Some Advice for President Bill Clinton

Column by Bill Jackson

Opinion Editor

Congratulations, President-elect Clinton. Your campaign was hokey and strange, but you survived the most intense character examination of any politician in history, campaigned harder than would seem humanly possible, and won the voting public away from the war hero and the populist.

I'm 21 years old, and I cast my first presidential vote for you. No, sir, I don't watch MTV much, and I think your saxophone playing is fair at best. What I did was listen to your priorities and your ideas, and I liked them.

I do not, however, believe everything you said. Don't take this wrong; it's not the residual of months of President Bush's mindless repetition of the word "trust." You have to understand where I and people my age are coming from. I have absolutely no memories of a world before Watergate, and few significant memories of a world before Reagan and Bush.

For me, simple trust in a leader or any measure of belief in a campaign promise isn't even a nostalgic memory. It's a silly idea that might have existed long ago, but I'm not even sure that it ever did. President Reagan was going to balance the budget; President Bush wasn't going to raise taxes. You are going to break promises too, Mr. Clinton. Your supporters in my age group are expecting it.

From all indications at press time, the youngest voters turned out in record numbers, and a good majority of us turned out to support you. We want you as our president, but frankly, we're skeptical. History, economists, and common sense all combine to tell us that you are not going to create all of those programs you want to create -- and they're good programs -- without raising taxes on the middle class. I say this because I think your planned budgets show incredible optimism about savings from cutting governmental waste, and I mean "incredible" in the literal sense of the word.

So here's some free advice. When you have to break a promise, don't skirt around it. Look the camera in the eye and tell us why you think it's worth breaking the promise. We'll respect you for it. We are not bothered by your transparent falsity the way our parents and grandparents are; we see you as an actor playing a role that you believe passionately in. We can see that you're playing a role and yet we somehow know that you only agreed to take the part because you genuinely believe in it.

What does scare us is the more opaque falsity of Ross Perot, who is a great actor, so immersed in his role that his audiences can only guess at what the man behind the part is like. What Perot did have going for him was an absolute focus on the priority that you are most vulnerable on -- the federal deficit.

Your rhetoric spoke of the threat that this generation of Americans would be the first to be worse off than their parents. I assume you meant this on a personal income level, but in reality this situation is already here, thanks to a burgeoning national debt. When I personally think of leaving my children better off than myself, I think in the relatively modest terms of not leaving my children burdened with an enormous debt. Please think of the federal deficit in these terms, and work toward reducing it. Not immediately, but soon and at a strong, steady rate.

With that in mind, remember that we voted for you, not your party. Work with Congress when you can but fight them tooth and nail when they get away from your agenda. As I said at the beginning, I like your ideas and your priorities, and I expect those, not necessarily their details, to remain the same. We're not going to hold you to the letter of your promises, Mr. Clinton, but we are going to hold you to their spirit.

Finally, I want to thank you for your conduct during the race. Mr. Bush's inane name calling ("Bozo") was unbecoming a candidate for the nation's highest office and it was good to see that your campaign either accentuated your own positives or the negatives of Mr. Bush's ideas, but not the negatives of Mr. Bush as a person. And may I say (only slightly facetiously), with regard to the character non-issue, I don't care if you're accused of sleeping with every woman in Arkansas, I'll still trust you not to sell weapons to dictators more than I would have Mr. Bush.

So now you've got it. Run with it. Our generation is voting now, and you can be damn sure that in four years we'll let you know exactly how we think you did. Good luck.

Opinion Editor Bill Jackson '93 would like a campus-wide moment of silence at noon today to commemerate the loss of fertile comedy material stemming from Dan Quayle's defeat.