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Clinton's Style Is Flexible, Haphazard

A BIT of self-analysis by President Clinton is worth noting. ``There's just something about me that infuriates people that aren't for me,'' he told Connie Bruck in her New Yorker profile of Hillary Rodham Clinton. ``I've always had people that really loved me and people that really hated me,'' the president added. ``And I'm used to it.''

The president was being a little too hard on himself. Intense hate and anger were expressed by many Americans against Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and Richard Nixon. But there isn't much real hatred of Mr. Clinton. His foes have a difficult time not liking this affable fellow even while they question his character and the direction he is taking the country.

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But the president's use of ``love'' goes too far also. In my opinion, there have been only four presidents who stirred up a widespread feeling of deep personal attachment while in office: Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan.

Just about everyone, even Eisenhower's severest critics, would say, ``I like Ike.'' In fact, I just saw a small sign on the back of a new automobile declaring, ``I still like Ike.'' And Reagan expressed a kind of benign warmth that disarmed his critics.

No, I didn't mistakenly leave out Harry Truman. He wasn't that much loved when he was president. The public warmth and appreciation for Truman that we see today has grown with the years.

Most people I talk to, even those who say they voted for Clinton, are taking a ``wait and see'' attitude toward him. They like his energy and his serious, hard-working efforts to bring about change. They find him personable. They like him, but one hears no permanent allegiance being expressed. I've yet to find anyone who calls himself a ``Clinton Democrat'' the way people quickly began to identify themselves as Roosevelt Democrats or Eisenhower Republicans.

This is early in the Clinton administration. He still has plenty of time to win committed supporters and, yes, even widespread expressions of love.

But he is not there yet. Indeed, the polls indicate that Clinton today isn't much above the 43 percent of public support he drew in the last election. He may not be unpopular, but he certainly isn't popular.

The question that Clinton yet must answer is not whether he is liked but whether he is an effective president. He's had some successes - notably the budget vote and approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement - but most political observers say he needs to bring about passage of a universal health-care program this summer if the Democrats are going to be able to head into the fall elections with a strong, ``look what our president has been doing'' message.

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Questions also are growing about the way Clinton governs. He seems to want to be a part of everything that is going on and ``thereby doesn't give himself time to focus on what truly matters: determining overall priorities and themes, educating the American public, and investing time in issues that are not crises and might never become crises if dealt with early on.''

The quote above is from an insightful article by Richard N. Haass, an author of an important book on how to be effective in government. Mr. Haass calls Clinton's loose organization ``adhocracy,'' a system that he says relies on the president to distribute assignments and select when and to whom he listens.

Haass concedes that the ad hoc approach speeds up the emergence of new ideas and policies and is quite flexible. But he asserts that this operation accounts for the Clinton administration ``never quite getting things right.... Its foreign policy - from Bosnia to Somalia to Haiti to China - is littered with examples. But even on domestic issues, the administration's supposed strength, the list of stumbles and missteps is extensive.''

Loved or not loved, in the end the president will have to show that he can get the job done.

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