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Lessons From Guinier

PRESIDENT Clinton, in the long run, may be the principal loser in the Lani Guinier debacle. The black vote in the 1992 election was a major factor in Mr. Clinton's victory, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus and others have made clear their displeasure with the way Ms. Guinier's canceled nomination as head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division was handled.

This said, abandonment of the president, as the Black Caucus threatens, is not a viable option either. His budget package stands to benefit all Americans, including those the Caucus represents.

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Guinier has been treated shabbily, we presume unintentionally so, by the Clinton White House. Reams of print and broadcast speculation have been expended on how and why this embarrassing, unnecessary blunder was allowed to take place.

It seems clear that if the president had not withdrawn Guinier's nomination, and if hearings on her nomination had been held, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee and a significant number of Democrats would have formed a solid block against her. But it would have been very instructive for the White House, Congress, and the nation at large to hear her explain her legal and political views.

Guinier's point that most of her publications on the American political process were made in the academic milieu is valid. Anyone who participates in academic affairs knows that viewpoints strongly defended by a person in such forums are likely to be revised and tempered under other circumstances. Whatever her political philosophy, Guinier will doubtless continue to make her mark as an academic and an attorney.

Her nomination seems to have fallen to White House bungling. Presidents stumble occasionally just like the rest of us. But most manage to avoid making it a trademark. Seat-of-the-pants operations can work in political campaigns because campaigns are to a great degree "show business."

Not so after the election. The former candidate is now the ship of state's captain. There have been too many incidents similar to that involving Guinier. Spotting and avoiding them, we hope, will now be a major chore for former aide to Republican presidents David Gergen, who has joined the Clinton team. We can all hope that Gergen's experience and unflappability will come in handy over the next three-and-a-half years.

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