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A Christmas Card For the President

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PRESIDENT Clinton should take a break over the holidays. He deserves it, and the country needs it. Christmas is a time for spiritual inspiration, physical relaxation and mental contemplation. So, send the weary White House staff home, Mr. President; stand the White House press corps down for a few days, snuggle up around the fire with Hillary and Chelsea and Socks the cat, and watch the flames flicker and the lights on the Christmas tree wink in and out.

It would be good for this most energetic and restless of presidents to reflect on where he's come from this first year in the White House and ponder where to direct his focus in 1994.

For a president elected with only 43 percent of the vote, there have been satisfying victories. There was the budget, just squeaking by, but a victory nonetheless. There was the saving of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and, perhaps with it, the sinking of Ross Perot.

There was the moving, passionate speech against crime and lawless gun-slinging that may begin a campaign to make America safer. (I wish the president would as passionately urge his Hollywood friends to clean up movies and television.)

By the end of the year, a White House staff that had earlier seemed disorganized and erratic was beginning to find its stride, even though the modernized White House switchboard takes longer than ever to answer. (Says a Washington, D.C., telephone company operator: ``You'd be surprised how many complaints we get about that.'')

There were failures, too, in this first Clinton presidential year. Somalia was a mess inherited from the Bush administration, but it was made worse by such indecisiveness as the Clinton administration alternately hunting, then wooing, a reigning warlord. The former Yugoslavia, in its winter misery, is a terrible stain on the American (and European) conscience. Haiti is unfinished business.

As he adds up the pluses and minuses of the past year, where should the president focus his energy for the next?


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