Saturday, July 3, 1999
Much to celebrate on
Fourth of JulyThe issue: How is the United States doing on the 223rd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence?On the last Fourth of July before the millennium, one might suppose America would be celebrating the recent victory in Kosovo. But that miniwar seems to have made little impression on the national consciousness.
Our view: The country's strength is unmatched, economically and militarily, and the democratic system is thriving.
One indication is that President Clinton's popularity rating has gotten no boost from the Kosovo campaign; his approval numbers hover near 50 percent. When President Bush prevailed against Iraq in the Gulf War eight years ago, his popularity soared to 91 percent. Clinton's popularity rating now is actually lower than it was during the impeachment battle.
Apparently Americans have shrugged off Kosovo as no big deal, ironically perhaps because of the remarkable achievement of no U.S. combat fatalities. So Clinton gets no credit. There seemed to be more concern over the mass school killings in Colorado and other states.
Evidently Americans also shrugged off the charges behind the president's impeachment, so Clinton's ratings weren't hurt -- not immediately, at least.
Perhaps these attitudes reflect confidence in America. The United States stands astride the world as the only superpower. Victory in Kosovo was taken for granted -- although it failed to prevent the massacres of thousands of ethnic Albanians.
Despite his moral flaws, Clinton has presided over a booming economy and plummeting crime rates. Nobody's perfect, Americans seem to reason, so why boot him out? In any case, the republic would survive. No big thing.
But as Hawaii has learned the hard way, prosperity doesn't necessarily last forever. The national economy will experience a downturn sooner or later.
Military pre-eminence, similarly, may be fleeting. Many nations resent American power and are itching for a chance to bring the United States down a peg. Iraq, China, Russia and North Korea could provoke confrontations. Domestically, there is still too much crime and too much drugs, resulting in too many men, particularly blacks, in prison.
Despite these caveats, the United States has much to take pride in on this Fourth of July. America is not only economically and militarily stronger than any other country and the unquestioned leader in the new technology.
It is also more democratic, more sensitive to the rights of women and minorities than at any other time in its history.
Major problems remain in public education, environmental protection and campaign financing, of course, but none of these is insurmountable.
It's the 223rd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and we're not doing too shabbily.
Lenins body subject
of contentionThe issue: Russian Communists fear that President Boris Yeltsin will order Vladimir Lenin's corpse moved from his Red Square tomb to a St. Petersburg grave.GUARDS are stationed at the entrance to the Red Square mausoleum where Vladimir Lenin's mummified body lies supine, but that is less than assuring to Russians who revere him. Communist members of the Russian parliament are keeping an eye on the structure just outside the Kremlin wall to ward off potential body snatchers. Controversy with symbolic overtones continues about whether Lenin should remain where he is or be buried with the rest of his family in St. Petersburg.
Our view: Lenin should remain on Red Square until Russians can afford to deal with such an emotional issue.
Lenin died in 1924 at the age of 53 after a series of strokes. Although he said he wished to be buried in St. Petersburg -- called Petrograd at the time of his death and renamed Leningrad afterward -- his body was embalmed and put on display over his widow's protests. The body is checked monthly for fungal growth, and it is soaked for two months every year in a vat of embalming fluid.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II has called for the reburial, saying it is amoral for Red Square to be used both as a cemetery and as a setting for open-air concerts.
President Boris Yeltsin also favors a St. Petersburg burial of Lenin. Although Yeltsin has not pushed for it, apparently afraid of antagonizing Lenin's party faithful, Kremlin officials seem to enjoy dropping hints that a removal decree is imminent. It is unclear who has the authority to order such a move.
Equally unclear is the symbolism associated with Lenin's tomb. As Russians struggle with economic crisis, the percentage wanting Lenin to be taken from the tomb and buried in St. Petersburg has risen from 42 to 57 in the past two years, although 85 percent say they regret the passing of the Soviet Union, up 20 percent from the early 1990s.
Communist leaders claim that removal of the body would presage an attempt to outlaw their party, but the connection seems highly speculative. Still, removal could provoke needless confrontation while Russians need to pull together in working toward market reforms and economic recovery. Yeltsin should provide assurance that Lenin will stay where he is.
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