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Appointment Of Gergen Stuns Politicos

IMAGINE the reaction if President Bush - after spending years criticizing Jimmy Carter - had suddenly appointed Jody Powell, Mr. Carter's press secretary, as his communications director.

That, roughly, is what happened this past weekend when President Clinton tapped David Gergen - a veteran of three GOP administrations - to run his communications operation with the title of "counselor to the president."

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The appointment shocked Washingtonians of all political stripes because Mr. Gergen was the chief salesman of Reaganomics - an economic doctrine that Mr. Clinton blamed for many of the nation's woes during the 1992 campaign.

Clearly, the president must have figured he is in dire political straits to reach so boldly across the political aisle. The move was immediately praised by conservative Democrats, such as Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, but Senate minority leader Bob Dole (R) of Kansas suggested the problem in the White House was "not the messenger, it's the message," referring to Clinton's economic plans.

Among the White House staff, Gergen's appointment has set off a ripple effect. George Stephanopoulos will give up his title as communications director to concentrate on offering the president long-range advice, while Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers apparently will take over Mr. Stephanopoulos's role as the White House's chief mouthpiece.

Many more staff changes may be coming in the near future as the president tries to get his administration back on track. Clinton at the wall

President Clinton, who opposed the Vietnam War and once thanked a mentor for "saving me from the draft," faced the ghosts of his youth by deciding to speak at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on his first Memorial Day as commander-in-chief. "I can't run away," he said.

The president was speaking during ceremonies yesterday at the black marble wall that serves as a stark reminder of the thousands of lives lost during the Asian conflict.

His speech at the wall was sure to anger some veterans and their families, and was a risky political move for an already battered president.

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On the one hand, it called attention to the controversy over his efforts to avoid the draft. But it also offered him the chance to bury the matter as a political issue, while helping his generation - and the country - come to grips with the war.

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