Clinton Starts Out As Insider, Outsider
PRESIDENT-ELECT Clinton introduced two images here this week - the newly arrived insider seeking the levers of power and the outsider seeking to sustain his rapport with common citizens.
This is a juggling act he will attempt to carry into his presidency.
Picture his arrival at the White House Wednesday: Greeting President Bush, the two of them - tall, sober men in dark, navy suits - strode briskly up the walkway to the Oval Office. It was a cordial, private introduction to the pinnacle of power.
Then, only two hours later, Mr. Clinton discussed the cost of health insurance with Bernadine Carey outside her Georgia Avenue hair salon, as a screaming crowd watched enthusiastically.
"It's incredibly important to Governor Clinton to keep that contact, to keep meeting people, getting out," says his transition press secretary, Dee Dee Myers.
Yesterday, he said he wanted to establish a good working relationship with Congress when he takes office. He planned to meet later in the day with top Democratic and Republican congressmen, including Senate minority leader Robert Dole (R) of Kansas, who has cautioned him against trying to accomplish too much too soon.
Clinton spoke respectfully of Mr. Bush and their meeting in the White House, much of it spent discussing potential crisis spots abroad. He said that the president was candid and offered "good advice."
But when he left the White House and headed to a poor and middle class black neighborhood a few miles north to talk to small-business owners, he was attempting to mark a departure from the Bush approach to governing.
His visit was taken by a few residents anyway as a sign of good faith in sustaining the campaign promise, that he is still out listening to the people even though he has won the election.
"At least he's got a presence here," said Richard Tulloch, a native of Jamaica, as he waited for Clinton to arrive. While he believes that much of the high hopes surrounding the new presidency are mere emotionalism, he adds: "I've never had that feeling before that something good is going to happen."
ANOTHER bystander, Jonathan Haynes, asserted that Clinton must stay in close touch with Americans because Ross Perot and his popular movement still wait in the wings. But as long as Mr. Perot is a background presence, Mr. Haynes says, "I think [Clinton] has the chance to be the greatest president ever."
Such neighborhood visits, says Patricia C. J. Williams, who slipped her resume into Clinton's pocket, prove that he is not forgetting his campaign promises just because the campaign is over. "I've never seen a president come up this way. Pennsylvania Avenue maybe. But not up here."
The last president to make a populist point of walking Washington streets was Jimmy Carter. Clinton wants to embody the outsider's ability to speak the people's language, with the insider's ability to get things done.
His many meetings with members of Congress, ending in vows of cooperation and action, are intended to foreshadow the end of government gridlock.
"The 102nd Congress was one of the least productive Congresses I can remember," says politics professor Stephen Wayne of Georgetown University. Voters, he adds, blamed the situation on both parties and both branches of government.
But many of Clinton's moves during his transition have been signals that he is an outsider, not part of the allegedly complacent culture of power here.
The powerful appeal of the outsider in politics lies in "being in touch with people who feel alienated from the system and speaking to them in their own language," says Samuel Popkin, a University of California at San Diego political scientist, author of "The Reasoning Voter," and pollster for the Clinton campaign.
"You want them to know you're inside fighting for them, not inside forgetting about them," he says.
In the past week, Clinton has made a number of gestures marking his outsider status. Most significantly, he put former South Carolina Gov. Richard Riley (D) in charge of choosing personnel for his White House staff and Cabinet departments. The choice reflects Clinton's interest in reaching talent beyond the Washington Beltway to statehouses around the country.
He refused to stay in the government-owned Blair House, across the street from the White House, because it is too expensive. But he may end up paying far more to secure and keep his entourage in the elite Hay-Adams Hotel a block away.
Although there is doubt among experts that Clinton's ethics rules for his transition team place any meaningful limits on the members, the rules are meant to at least symbolize an effort to close the revolving door of lobbyists cashing in on government positions to peddle influence.