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Clinton's Ratings Slip, But Many in Public Still Trust His Motives

Many voters feel president has vision for the country, but doubt his economic plan and key appointments

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TOO many tax increases. Too much government waste. Too little action to fix the economy.

Seven months after they voted Bill Clinton into the White House, Americans worry about all those problems, and many blame the president. Public confidence is waning, anxiety is waxing.

Most important, Americans fret that the economy, which they elected President Clinton to repair, is still sputtering like a dilapidated V-8, despite last month's drop in unemployment.

Recent polls from the Wirthlin Group, the New York Times/CBS, CNN/USA Today, and others find the public's enthusiasm for their young president is being quickly sapped. Voters are troubled by record-setting tax proposals, liberal appointees, the gays-in-the-military issue, and even the $200 haircut.

A new Field Poll finds Mr. Clinton's job-approval rating in California has fallen to just 31 percent. Nationwide, a CNN/USA Today poll done by Gallup puts Clinton at only 37 percent approval - a record low for any modern president.

Political scientist Earl Black says the early months of the Clinton White House have "put a lot of Democrats on the defensive. Clinton has lost a lot of credibility," he says.

What's gone wrong? Political analyst Charles Cook says it's the little things as well as the big ones that hurt the president and alienate supporters on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Cook, editor of "The Cook Political Report," points to one senator who found himself boxed in by White House guidelines on a new federal judge nomination. The only choices, the senator suggested, were "fully unqualified," Cook says.

"The senator found it absolutely disgusting," Cook reports, "but because he was opposing the president on so many other things, he felt obliged" to go along.

Cook says rather than filling key federal jobs with "accomplished government officials," the president is picking "people from think tanks, from the academic world, without a real grounding in the world of governing." That is leading to serious mistakes, he says.

All this grumbling disturbs some outside observers. Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, recently in Washington, said: "I think any serious observer would tell you how silly it is to pass judgment on the president of the United States after 90 or 100 days." Mr. Mulroney called Clinton "an impressive leader" and suggested Americans should give him a break.

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