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Bernstein on Clinton

July 26, 1994

* Re Carl Bernstein's lament over Camelot potentially lost, "A Matter of Honesty: Bill Clinton and Whitewater," Opinion, July 17:

It is truly amazing how journalists can continue to speak of how Bill Clinton "got elected" to do this and that, as if 43% of the vote represents some kind of mandate. It is more correct to speak of how 57% of the people passionately did not want Bill Clinton elected President; nor did they--or do they now--want any part of his policies.

Clinton, to Bernstein, may be in trouble because of an honesty problem, but the truth is that he is in trouble because of the near-antediluvian, bureaucracy-based programs that he advocates. Given the unpopularity of his ideas and programs, anyone associated with them would have to learn to lie quickly.

The Reagan coalition still comfortably controls the majority of the voting public, and that majority demands less government, less taxes, less federal programs and less of Bill and Hillary's efforts to turn back the clock to the 1960s. In 1996, without a believe-nothing like George Bush heading the opposition ticket, 43% will no longer command a governing "mandate," except to someone as out of touch as Bernstein.

GARY W. McCARTY

Pasadena

* Bernstein's article was one of the finest commentaries on the Clinton presidency.

Bernstein is right. "The best-informed President of our lifetime," the first President in a generation to "honestly confront . . . with eloquence and daring . . . the true problems of our civil society" may indeed have marred his presidency by truth-trimming, lack of candor and prevarication, particularly about his personal finances some 13 years ago. In a word, a potentially great presidency may be ruined by its own flaws--or by our unrealistic expectations.

Two questions suggest themselves:

First, how many truly gifted political leaders (in our country or in any other) can one think of who were less flawed than Clinton? Second, how many gifted political leaders were held so relentlessly to the white glare of scrutiny during their own tenure by their own people?

Never has a President inherited so enormous a national debt. Rarely has a President inherited such an overwhelming world disorder. We are not willing to settle for a brilliantly gifted but blemished resident; we will settle for nothing less than a sainted President. Batter up!

DENIS HICKEY Ph.D.

Department of Philosophy and Religious

Studies, Cypress College

* Bernstein counsels the Clintons to be truthful and then flagrantly misquotes and egregiously misconstrues one of the most famous passages from President Nixon's White House tapes. He writes that President Nixon said, "I don't give a s--t what you do. Lie, stonewall, whatever you have to do to get past the grand jury."

In fact, in a famous conversation about Watergate with John Mitchell on March 22, 1973, Nixon said, "I don't give a s--t what happens . . . Stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment, cover-up, or anything else, if it'll save it--save it for them. That's the whole point. On the other hand, I would prefer, as I said to you, that you do it the other way. And I would particularly prefer to do it that other way if it's going to come out that way anyway. And that my view, that with the number of jackass people that they've got that they can call (before the grand jury), they're going to--the story they get out through leaks, charges, and so forth, and innuendoes, will be hell of a lot worse than the story they're going to get out by just letting it out there."

His interpretation of the passage is equally negligent. As anyone knows who has listened to the whole conversation--which is available to the public at the National Archives--President Nixon tells Mitchell that he resented the way President Eisenhower had treated his besieged chief of staff, Sherman Adams, and that he intended to let his colleagues do what they felt they had to do to protect themselves. But he goes on to urge Mitchell to embrace the tactic of letting White House and campaign aides testify openly before the Watergate grand jury. He is urging candor, not cover-up.

It is simply wrong to imply, as Bernstein does, that the President was ordering a cover-up. He was doing almost precisely the opposite.

JOHN H. TAYLOR, Director

Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace

Yorba Linda

* Reagan was excused for being human . . . Clinton is being abused for being human!

LAWRENCE CORB

San Clemente

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