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ALL THE PRESIDENT'S KATZENJAMMER KIDS
That flaming object flashing past your window is not Halley's comet. It's Bill Clinton, heading with breathtaking speed toward record lows in his popularity. As a result, the White House has plunged deep into a uniquely Clintonesque invention: The perpetual, multitiered, rolling staff
It's not a pretty sight. As a governor and a Presidential campaigner, Clinton was constantly supplanting aides with newcomers. Hardly anyone got fired, and the top-heavy structure lurched from crisis to crisis--while somehow serving Clinton's needs. Again, Clinton is rushing in reinforcements.
The turmoil is further cooling CEOs' ardor for the Administration. "It's frightening to watch," says David R. Whitwam, chairman and CEO of Whirlpool Corp. "It's an organizational issue. Clinton badly underestimated the complexity" of Washington.
True, but at least the President gets credit for realizing the problem. He signaled a move back to the center by hiring Washington veteran David Gergen, a savvy insider who put the spit-shine on Reaganomics, as communications czar. Other changes are in the works, and when Clinton is done, he'll have a three-tiered setup that may look like this:
-- Grownups. Given the job of repackaging Clinton as a "New Democrat," Gergen will lead frustrated Administration centrists. But he'll have to share power with Chief of Staff Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty III, who will spend much of his time lobbying Congress, where he's liked more than Clinton. Make no mistake, though, McLarty's star has dimmed. He may cede operational decisions to Harold Ickes, a New York attorney known for his take-no-prisoners management style. Negotiation on Ickes' role and arrival date are under way.
The result, if Ickes signs on, would be a power-sharing accord that harkens back to Ronald Reagan's first-term "triumvirate." But unlike the generally conservative trio of James A. Baker III, Michael K. Deaver, and Edwin Meese III, Clinton's triad is made up of ill-fitting parts: Gergen backs rightist policies, McLarty straddles the middle, and Ickes hovers out in far left field. "Pure Clinton," sighs a Democratic pol. "He throws incompatible people together and assumes it'll work."
-- Walking wounded. Ex-message-meister George Stephan-opoulos, banished to the netherworld of "long-term strategy," remains an influential adviser. McLarty deputy Mark D. Gearan, seen as over his head in that post, will assume new duties jawboning mayors and governors. And Chief Counsel Bernard J. Nussbaum, whose clumsy intervention in Travelgate tarred Clinton, may be reined in by White House topsiders.
-- Casualties. Some aides could see their clout curbed. Government liaison chief Regina Montoya, accused of failing to sell Clintonomics at the grass roots, may depart. And Political Director Rahm Emanuel will see a veteran operative imposed over him. A fund-raising whiz, Emanuel is "very weak" as a strategist, according to a top Democratic official.
Viewing the White House turmoil with trademark serenity is McLarty, a former executive who is struggling in his role of tempering Bill Clinton's enthusiasms. Confident that the President's fortunes will recover when his new team gels and Congress approves his budget, McLarty insists Clinton Inc. is a long way from Chapter 11. "If you looked at us as a business, considering our accomplishments, we'd be quite successful."
That's a tough sell. Says Republican Richard E. Sabourin, CEO of BesTop Inc., a Colorado auto parts manufacturer: "If you play politics all the time and don't have priorities, you're going to drown in your own soup." Spoon, anyone?Edited by Stephen H. Wildstrom; Lee Walczak and Susan B. Garland, with Bureau ReportsReturn to top
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S KATZENJAMMER KIDS
While plunging popularity and White House turmoil may be pushing Bill Clinton back toward the center, a new poll suggests that when it comes to health-care reform, boldness is best. The survey, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that 85% of Americans feel "major changes" or a "complete overhaul" of the health-care system is necessary. Paradoxically, 55% of those surveyed feel the nation spends too little on health care, yet 54% said the biggest problem facing the system is high costs. And by a 39%-to-31% margin, respondents favored government controls over competition as the best way to keep down costs. The poll found that Americans were willing, by a margin of 2 to 1, to pay higher taxes to insure health care for all. The favorite levies: stiff tax hikes on alcohol and cigarettes and a new tax on doctors, hospitals, and insurers.Return to top