| CLINTON'S SECOND TERM:|
January 15, 1997
December 23, 1996: A NewsHour panel of historians looks at historical second terms.
December 20, 1996: President Clinton announces the new cabinet members who will join him for his second term.
December 6, 1996: Perspective on foreign policy and second term presidents comes from a panel of historians.
Malcolm Farnsworth of Melbourne, Victoria, AUSTRALIA, asks:
William Neikirk, Chicago Tribune White House Correspondent responds:
Having just returned from Australia, I feel safe in saying that politics in America is a lot different. The vital center will prevail, or something just to the right of it. Clinton is not repudiating the Republican agenda, only trimming it at the edges. He'll try to expand health care, perhaps for kids, but will make only a little progress. He will largely stand as a preservationist of the safety net against Republican cost-cutting efforts. For example, the White House hates the idea of a big expansion of "medical savings accounts" that would permit the healthy, young, well-to-do to pull out of health insurance pools. This would boost costs for those remaining.
Jonathan Peterson, Los Angeles Times White House Correspondent responds:
I think it would be fair to say that in the U.S. political spectrum, Clinton's positions on crime and welfare are more centrist than highly conservative, although they clearly have disappointed many in the Democratic Party.
Clinton's supporters would argue that his approach on those issues is dictated by the fact that the FDR-type programs you allude to are no longer suitable in many ways. One are where the right and left may find some common ground is on the importance of improving education as a key to economic survival in the coming years.
Jim Kuhnhenn, Kansas City Star Washington Bureau Chief responds:
The health care debate of 1993-94 and the Republican revolution of 1995-96 showed that, from a political standpoint, major policy reforms in this country are best done incrementally. Big changes are subjected to "big scares" and ultimately fail.
It's interesting to read how political adjustments here are perceived abroad. In fact, the biggest reversal of New Deal policy was in agriculture, where Congress eliminated artificial price controls and, in general, moved away form subsidizing farmers (though not before giving farmers nice-sized payments to tide them over a few years.) To be sure, the changes in welfare are a significant retreat from existing policy and could end up causing more harm than good. But in essence it is a shift from federal control of social policy to state control. It represents a rightward shift - more Congress' than Clinton's - but hardly a full swing of the pendulum from left to right.
Many political observers believe the country is entering a period where control of Congress will shift regularly form left to right - from Democrat to Republican. The question is, will this strengthen the vital center or simply polarize our political institutions even further?