Tuesday, January 19, 1999

Unique circumstances
for Clinton’s address

DESPITE requests that he follow the example of 19th century presidents and send a written report on the State of the Union to Congress, President Clinton was to deliver his annual report tonight in person. In itself, this was not unusual, but the circumstances -- his impeachment by the House and trial by the Senate -- are unique.

Clinton's appearance is a remarkable exercise in denial of reality, a pretense that he is carrying out the duties of the president as usual, as if the extraordinary events of the past year, culminating in the Senate trial, had not occurred.

But they did occur, and even his acquittal by the Senate would not erase them. Clinton remains incredibly popular, but he has lost the respect and trust of the American people and their representatives in Congress.

Whether or not he committed "high crimes and misdemeanors," in the vague language of the Constitution, he disgraced the presidency. For him to address the Congress while the Senate is deliberating his possible removal from office is a travesty.

As an article in the adjoining column notes, the first two presidents appeared in person before Congress to report on the state of the Union, but Thomas Jefferson refused, considering it too similar to the tradition of British kings. Subsequent presidents followed Jefferson's example and sent written reports, until Woodrow Wilson set the current precedent in 1913.

In modern times, presidents have used the State of the Union address to speak over the heads of Congress to the American people through radio and then television. That of course is what Clinton is doing tonight. He is using the address as a means of assuring the nation that all is well in the White House, that he continues to meet his responsibilities of leadership regardless of his disgrace and impeachment.

In fact, Clinton's legislative record in 1998 was poor. The major items in his 1998 State of the Union address -- an anti-tobacco initiative, an HMO patients' bill of rights, expansion of Medicare to include younger people, campaign finance reform, an increase in the minimum wage and fast-track trade negotiation authority -- all failed.

The outlook for 1999 is no better. Although the White House produced a stream of proposals last week to distract attention from the Senate trial and pretend that it was business as usual, it is difficult to believe that any major legislative initiative by this administration can succeed in the current atmosphere. If the conventional wisdom is right and Clinton escapes with censure, the rest of his presidency probably will be crippled. He will be the lamest of all presidential lame ducks -- no matter how hard he tries to pretend otherwise.


Waikiki Natatorium

THE need to restore the Waikiki Natatorium is obvious and the cost reasonable in terms of its importance historically and to the Hawaii of today. But the opponents of full restoration continue to raise nit-picking objections. The latest is that the winning bid of $10.85 million by Healy Tibbitts Builders did not include all of about 15 "alternate" improvements that City Councilwoman Donna Mercado Kim claimed were initially represented as included in the project's cost.

But Mayor Harris replied that Kim, an implacable opponent of full restoration, deliberately stalled approvals for the Natatorium in the Zoning Committee until there was insufficient time to prepare bids. The rush occurred because funding was due to lapse at the end of 1998. The result, Harris said, was to force the price above what had been budgeted.

The contracting company has indicated that it may be able to include completion of the foundation and structural system for the bleacher wings, plumbing and electrical work, and completion of the facade within the base bid price. That would leave ramps and walkways, swimming pool equipment, street lighting and a volleyball court, which the city says could be handled by the Department of Parks and Recreation or the operator of the facility.

These problems can be worked out. As a last resort, private donations could be solicited -- as was previously contemplated to finance the entire project. By no means should this snag be permitted to block the full restoration of the Natatorium, the memorial to Hawaii's World War I veterans and an important part of Waikiki's history.


Massacre in Kosovo

THE massacre of 45 ethnic Albanians is grisly evidence of the breakdown of a cease-fire in the fighting between Serb forces and Kosovo rebels. The discovery prompted NATO's Secretary-General Javier Solana to issue a condemnation and warn that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic would be held personally responsible for the behavior of his security forces.

The defiance of the Yugoslav regime has extended to barring the chief United Nations war crimes prosecutor, Louise Arbour, from entering the country from Macedonia to investigate the massacre. NATO must make it clear to Milosevic that this cannot be tolerated.

The threat of NATO air strikes, made last year to pressure Milosevic to call off his offensive against rebels fighting for independence for Kosovo, may be renewed to deal with the current outbreak. But the NATO allies do not wish to encourage independence for Kosovo from Serbia, which could lead to further fragmentation in the Balkans.

The goal is to achieve a degree of autonomy for Kosovo while keeping it within Serbia but the prospects of agreement are much dimmer as a result of the new killings.

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