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Unscripted Clinton

Recent comments suggest the president means it when he says 'I feel

It has been interesting to listen to President Clinton since the Littleton massacre on April 20.

There is the formal presidential side. Mr. Clinton appears in the Rose Garden with a script. He has "spent an enormous amount of time following the events in Colorado." He quotes the first lady as saying that "we need nothing less than a grass-roots effort to protect our children and turn them away from violence."

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He proposes new measures to keep guns away from criminals and children. And he invites parents, teachers, religious leaders, and the entertainment and Internet communities to a White House conference on May 10 for a "strategy session" on "children, violence, and responsibility."

But since April 20 I have heard another side of Mr. Clinton, an unscripted side. It is difficult to see because it is so visible. It is the voice of someone who associates himself with victims because he can remember having been one.

Two days after the Columbine High School massacre, the president went out to T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., talking to the students gathered around him about rampant violence among American young people.

He said that some youths employ violence to lash out against ridicule and ostracism. Then Clinton said this curious thing:

"They had the wrong reaction to the fact they were dissed. Look, everybody gets dissed some time in life. Even the president. Sometimes, especially the president."

A week later, at a dinner honoring Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center, Clinton revealed more of himself to a supportive audience. He talked of those who react to being wounded by wounding others.

"I can still remember," he said, "when I was in second grade and I was the only kid that wasn't picked to play on the softball team. Nobody wanted me because I was too fat and too slow. I can still remember like it was yesterday."

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The president's point was that he understood those who looked down on him because they were looked down upon by others.

"When I was a kid in the South," he said, "why were the poor whites the worst? Because the rich whites were looking down on them all the time."

From his memory of being treated as poor white trash, the president developed a thesis of "categories" of people who are looked down upon seizing upon other categories to look down upon.

This holds true, he said not only for groups in America, but ethnic groups in Yugoslavia, the Serbs picking on the Kosovars because they felt picked upon.

He expressed fear that when the Kosovars went home - as he was sure they would - that they would start getting even, and the cycle of violence would resume.

Clinton was clearly articulating a personal outlook rather than a considered policy. But it helps one to understand why he constantly talks of "feeling your pain." He wants you to know he really does because, in his mind, he has been there.

*Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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