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Music Cues: Clinton's Last Days
Scott Simon
December 9, 2000

Clinton's Last Days

President Clinton is a hard act to follow. An interview with Mr. Clinton was published this week in Rolling Stone that might have reminded Americans that the fascination they now feel over who will become the next president is as confounding as trying to figure out which Bill Clinton is president. Mr. Clinton's friends may have more expectations for these last few weeks of his presidency than his opponents. His supporters among civil rights activists especially have hoped he would use his executive powers unbound now by any anxieties over running for re-election to leave a few bold strokes in his legacy.

In Rolling Stone, Mr. Clinton seems to ridicule his own `don't ask, don't tell' policy that was supposed to permit gays to serve freely in the U.S. Armed Forces, but the practical effect of that policy has been to drive a record number of gays out of the military and make those remaining vulnerable to threats and exposure. Mr. Clinton blames congressional Republicans for forcing him to that policy, but Republicans might point out that all they made the president do was fulfill a campaign promise he made when he needed to turn out additional votes in New York, California, Illinois and Florida, and said movingly and memorably, 'We haven't got a person to waste.'

Mr. Clinton beautifully articulated the grievance and then delivered a compromise that may have aggravated the situation. Many people President Clinton himself appointed to the Commission on Race and Reconciliation, chaired by Dr. John Hope Franklin, urged the president to declare a moratorium on the federal death penalty until a study can be completed on the fairness with which capital punishment is delivered. A Justice Department study found that 80 percent of all death sentences are meted out to minority defendants.

This week Mr. Clinton issued a statement that beautifully articulated the inequities of capital punishment, but he also declined to declare a moratorium. He postponed the scheduled execution of a convicted murder named Juan Raul Garcia for six months, which gives that decision over to the next president, who will have many more political constraints than Mr. Clinton.

In these last few weeks of his presidency, President Clinton will probably meet once more with Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak and urge them to make bold decisions for peace. He might tell them that daring popular opinion is sometimes necessary to nudge along progress. The two Mideast leaders might say, 'Tell us, Mr. President, about the last time that you did that.' Mr. Clinton also tells Rolling Stone he wishes it were possible for him to run for a third term. You mean, he's not?