The President has been playing and relaxing. Everyone needs a rest, even one whose ten day vacations cost the taxpayer one big bundle.
But have you ever heard of a President who goes to three NCAA playoff basketball games and opening day of the baseball season in one week? Have you ever heard of a president doing a pre-game, televised promotional for a basketball tournament in front of the White House hooping it up over what he called “March Madness.” The television advertisers must have loved it. This is not the first time that Clinton has blurred the line between the Presidential and the commercial. During the controversy last year over the North American trade agreement (NAFTA), Clinton let the White House backyard be used for displays of commercial products that he said would be sold to Mexico.
When it comes to promoting the civic and attending civic gatherings (citizen groups as distinguished from shaking hands with citizens or pre-arranged town hall sessions), Mr. Clinton becomes procrastinatory. For two years he has been invited to address the civic equivalent of the NCAA tournament — one thousand citizen leaders in Washington, D.C. He has never said no and has never said yes.
He has’said yes many times to White House lunches with business leaders. Such meetings have an effect. When it comes to Clinton’s health and safety regulatory policies, they make many a business lobbyist smile. Who among the auto companies bigwigs could have dreamed that fifteen months after Clinton took office, a Reagan holdover would still be in charge of the auto safety agency. There’s little real difference between Reagan, Bush and Clinton on such issues, except for rhetoric.
A gas pipeline blew up in Edison, New Jersey last month. The Office of Pipeline Safety in the Department of Transportation is just the same sleepy industry-indentured agency under Clinton as it was under Reagan-Bush.
But it is on Capitol Hill that Clinton’s lack of assertiveness for the voters who elected him is having quiet but devastating effects. In a confidential memo to fellow
environmental groups, dated March 29, 1994, Erik Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council dashed hopes for a new day in Washington for safe water, clean air and non-toxic soil.
Olson’s recommendations were to try and salvage existing laws rather than advancing the rule of law against this silent violence that too charitably is called pollution. His strategy — block bills that weaken existing law and get others “taken off the table.” He didn’t use the word “retreat” but that was the essence of his counsel which protecting the clean drinking water law as the remaining focus.
This is not to say that these ten or twenty year old laws don’t need refinement and improvement. Some like the Superfund law and even the drinking water safety law could use improvements in the light of two decades experience. But once these laws are “opened up” in Congress the corporate toxics lobby will move in to weaken or hamstring them.
Back to Clinton at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. He does not like to use his Presidential veto. Compared to Reagan and Bush, Clinton is veto-averse. Only once did he promise a veto -if Congress passed health insurance without universal coverage.
When a President lets it be known, publically and privately, that he won’t veto pending legislation if it should pass the Congress, lobbyists for anti-consumer, worker and environment are emboldened.
These lobbyists have revived bills to federally regulate and restrict state courts and juries from providing adequate justice to injured citizens against the wrongdoers whose products or services harmed them. Since Clinton has declined to signal a veto against them, PAC-greased pressure is building to move them to a vote. PACs are political action committees that lather legislators with campaign money.
What is sad is that during the Presidential campaign, Clinton assured consumer groups that he would never federalize the common law of person injury that the states have developed over the past two hundred years. Now in office, he begins the process of federalizing and politicizing state court judgments in medical malpractice cases, embodied in his health insurance bill, and declines to tell Senators Rockefeller and Dodd that he will veto any similar bill regarding product defects.
One embittered victim of medical malpractice offered a way to get the President’s attention. Create a Special Olympics, composed of the best athletes from the millions of Americans who have been injured by dangerous products or medical malpractice recklessness over the years. Have a championship tournament. Make sure that Arkansans are well represented. Then invite the President.