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The Next Two Years

US can't postpone education, trade, retirement, and moral reforms. A troubled world needs a leader. Will Clinton do?

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Sadly, an aura of the Macbeths still hangs over the Clintons. Vaulting ambition mixed with a noble aim to lead have gone awry. More repair is needed.

President Clinton's half apologetic, half defiant explanation to the American people of l'affaire Lewinsky sounded hauntingly like the Shakespearean cry of "out, damned spot! Out."

But will it wash?

For the sake of the American people - and indeed much of the world - both parties in Washington have to find a way to make the next two years productive. There are too many urgent items on the agenda (and too many global surprises possible) to permit two years of drift.

The semi-mea culpa

Mr. Clinton did part of what we and many others had urged him to do over the past seven months. Belatedly he corrected a blatant lie. But he did so with such a semi-mea culpa - couched in euphemisms like "inappropriate" instead of "immoral" and "misled" rather than "lied" that the redeeming effect of making a clean breast of his breach of the public's faith was diluted. He joined the all-too-many politicians who say: "I take full responsibility" but then rush to add "It's also that other fellow's fault."

That other fellow, in this case, was special counsel Kenneth Starr. To blame his office for distracting the country for "too long" when the length of the distraction was solely a product of White House delaying tactics is no way to start creating an atmosphere of bipartisan cooperation for the next two years.

Bipartisan work, or lost years

And make no mistake about it, the best way to make productive use of those years will be to seek cooperative solutions. Yes, there are some GOP cries for impeachment. But, barring clear evidence of witness tampering or subornation of perjury, most Republicans in Congress are still loath to launch an Al Gore presidency.

Meanwhile, work on improving educational standards (and that means teaching standards more than computer wiring), reforming Social Security and Medicare, and expanding free trade should not have to await the next century. The seven fat years of budget surpluses are here. When lean years arrive all those tasks will be harder to accomplish.

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