By David Shapiro

Saturday, January 18, 1997

Congress, Clinton
should get to work

The election night promises of congressional leaders to end their partisan squabbling and get busy solving the country's problems had to be too good to be true.

Republicans said they got the message from Bill Clinton's easy victory over Bob Dole that voters were tired of endless investigations of assorted White House scandals. They said they would leave Whitewater to the courts and move on to more important business.

Democrats said they got the message from how easily Republicans kept control of both houses of Congress that voters wanted the two parties to work together. They said they would look for common ground.

Their follow-through is discouraging.

Republicans let up on Whitewater, but moved directly into a new investigation of Democratic fund raising that threatens to consume much legislative energy this session.

Democrats, meantime, are milking every possible inch of political mileage from House Speaker Newt Gingrich's decision to 'fess up and resolve the ethics dispute dogging him.

The childishness sinks lower every day. Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott leaked a tape of a Republican phone call in which Gingrich plotted his defense against the ethics charges. Republicans moved to expel McDermott for spreading an illegally taped conversation. Democrats whined that Republicans were threatening new ethics charges against Democrats unless they backed off on Gingrich.

It put Clinton in the politically enviable position of taking the high road on Gingrich's problems and lecturing the congressional crybabies that "way too much time and energy and effort is spent on all these things."

His words had a self-serving ring, implying that too much time also is spent on investigations of him. But the president has a legitimate issue. "The American people have given us larger responsibilities," he said.

Clinton deserves credit for his efforts during the campaign and since to raise the level of civility in politics. He always treated Republican opponent Bob Dole with respect and even this week awarded Dole a medal. It's what voters want and it's the right thing to do.

The circus in the House diverts attention from Social Security, Medicare, education and crime and creates so much animosity that the two sides will find it tough to cooperate if they ever get around to those problems.

It boils down to both sides refusing to accept the results of the election.

Republicans can point to polls showing most Americans don't think Clinton is honest and Democrats have polls showing Gingrich's approval rating among Americans is running deep in the negative numbers.

But the fact is that Clinton was re-elected by a wide margin after being pounded for four years with accusations about Whitewater, Travelgate, FBI lists, Paula Jones and fund raising. Voters were fully aware of these things. They discounted them and re-elected him anyway, obviously feeling he was fit to serve.

Similarly, Democrats beat on Gingrich in congressional districts around the country, hitting him on his ethics problems and the budget fights that shut down the government. Voters decided to leave Republicans in charge, fully expecting Gingrich would be at the helm.

For better or worse, informed Americans who bothered to vote chose Clinton and Gingrich to lead us. Voters made clear they wanted them working together to solve our problems, not investigating each other into political impotence. Clinton and Gingrich seem ready to get on with it. Let's join them.

David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at
Volcanic Ash runs every Saturday in the Star-Bulletin.

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