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The Domestic Agenda

PRESIDENT Bush gets generally good marks for his performance on foreign affairs two years into his term. But his record on the domestic side is less stellar. The administration often seems to be in disarray over civil rights issues. The war against drugs has had mixed results.

For a man who said he wanted to be remembered for his achievements in education and the environment, the president has proposed little and achieved little on either issue.

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The recent flap over whether universities can target scholarships to minority students is a case in point. First, Michael Williams, assistant education secretary for civil rights and himself black, announced that it was illegal to so target scholarship funds. The policy shift appears to have caught senior White House officials completely off guard.

A few days later, after a series of heated meetings among presidential advisers, Mr. Williams announced that a university could designate scholarships specifically for minority students, but only if they came from private sources and not from the institution's general funds. The White House then called even that into question, further confusing everyone.

The whole affair has raised new questions about whether the president really has a domestic agenda at all. Too often the White House seems to be in a reactive mode, responding to congressional action rather than proposing anything itself.

Only on taxes had there appeared to be any program, and that seems to have gone quickly down the drain. Elected on a no-new-taxes pledge, the president, to the dismay of conservatives and Republicans in Congress, gave in on tax increases to cut the fiscal 1991 deficit in negotiations with congressional Democrats. He acted for the best in doing so, but by not setting forth an alternative approach around which his supporters could rally, he weakened his base for presidential leadership. He has pushed for a capital-gains tax cut, but now may be writing that off, too.

Surely the president is capable of better than this. The time has come for the White House to sit down and get its domestic act together. It should draw up a positive agenda, or, if it has one, start articulating it both to Congress and the American people. The presidency is more than an administrative and coordinating job. Leadership is crucial, in domestic affairs or foreign. As Theodore Roosevelt put it, the job is a ``bully pulpit.''

It is time Mr. Bush started using it that way.

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