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The President and the 'Religious Right'

July 31, 1994

The standings of presidents in the polls cannot be thought reliably to make or break their political futures. Still, there was plenty of room for concern at the White House and among Democrats in last week's Times' poll that found President Clinton's job-approval rating standing at an anemic 45%.

Clinton seems to have thrived in the past on adversity, and it would be premature to draw too many conclusions beyond the immediate prognosis that his party will have its work cut out in this year's congressional elections. Nevertheless, the public seems unhappy with the leadership it is getting from Washington, and it finds a disturbing lack of direction in shoring up the nation's social fabric.

Whether anybody other than Clinton could do a better job of filling that demanding role as President is a very open question. The Republicans, who stand to benefit from unhappiness with the President, have their own troubles with the religious right. But Christian conservatives have what others seem unable to supply at the moment, namely a clear and understandable agenda--even if it is narrowly based and at times openly antagonistic.

The larger public is troubled and restive--not agreeing with the religious right's agenda, of course, but at least concurring in one respect: There is a feeling that the "moral climate" needs bolstering. This is a sensitive time for this country, a time when those from any quarter with a strong point of view would appear to have an opening.

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