The challenge continues: criticizing Clinton and Bush

Opinion

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Sue Cross' critique of President Bush (see letters), reaffirms my belief that dialogue is worth the effort. In this and her previous letter, she has proven to be an intelligent, thoughtful person, not just a knee-jerk over-reactor.

My capsule critique of Clinton: Because he was the most intelligent, charismatic president since JFK, and probably the most talented natural politician this country has produced since FDR, my expectations ran high, but he did not meet them. Clinton should have been a great president. He settled for "remarkably effective given the circumstances." I suspect something amiss in his character prevented him from achieving greatness?#34;perhaps the same trait that led him into his dalliance with a White House intern. For such a smart guy, that was awfully dumb and played right into the hands of his persecutors?#34;who committed far worse offenses in their unethical efforts to bring him down.

The affair, however, was deeply embarassing to the American people, and, as a result, a lot of people made the mistake of judging his performance as president on this single, personal failing. But he brought that on himself.

As president, I fault him for giving up too quickly on health care reform. He made a political calculation that it wasn't worth the fight, but the issue is too important for Americans, and he should have tried again in his second term.

Though there were legitimate reasons for not accomplishing more than he did, Clinton didn't aim high enough, didn't risk enough. He tried to work within the system as it existed instead of starting the long process of transforming it into something less corrupt. As a politician, he was probably smart to do that (it got him re-elected), but it prevented him from achieving a more lasting legacy as president.

In her comments, Sue said she has "seldom witnessed the overwhelming hatred that has been directed against Mr. Bush," but that is exactly how those of us who admired, respected, and/or supported Mr. Clinton felt about the vitriol and dirty politics directed at him during his eight years in office.

I don't hate George Bush and don't know anyone who does. I wrote about him often during 2004 because it was an election year, and I consider it our duty as citizens in a democracy to discuss and assess the performance of any incumbent president. Yes, I am deeply opposed to?#34;and outraged by?#34;many of the things his administration has done or failed to do, and I made my case for not re-electing him as forcefully as I could.

In the past year, however, I haven't mentioned him as much because I learned two important lessons from the last election?#34;which could serve as ground rules for future attempts at political dialogue during these highly charged, divisive times:

1) Don't expect to change anyone's mind.

2) Don't get caught up in trying to prove you're right.

People have to make up their minds about Bush on their own terms in their own time. During this first year of his second term, the polls indicate many may be recognizing that they made a mistake last election. I expect those numbers to increase over the next three years because, as I've always maintained, George W. Bush wasn't qualified to become president in the first place. He's not up to the job.

But if in the next three years, he grows as a person and becomes a more effective president, you can bet I will acknowledge that.

As for the notion of "how to talk to a liberal," it's the same as talking to a conservative: Listen to what they're actually saying, don't pretend you know what they're "really" thinking, and don't immediately dismiss their opinions.

Then demand the same courtesy in return.

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