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Passion from the bully pulpit

During the 1992 presidential campaign as then-candidate Bill Clinton spoke with the passion of a country preacher and routinely used biblical allusions, skeptics accused him of sacrilege. But almost two years and scores of speeches later, President Clinton still pounds the rostrum and speaks as if he were delivering a Sunday morning sermon.

Most recently, he even roused seasoned cops attending the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Albuquerque, N.M., when he veered from a prepared text on the benefits of the omnibus crime bill. The president spoke personally and eloquently about the country's obligation to rescue today's generation of children from violence and abuse.

Remembering the 5-year-old Chicago boy who police say was pushed to his death by an 11-year-old and a 10-year-old boy because he refused to steal candy for them, Clinton spoke unequivocally about parental responsibility: "Parents have to recognize that the real war on crime begins at home. If the first responsibility of government is to provide law and order, the first responsibility of parents is to teach right from wrong. Kids are going to look up to somebody, and it's up to the adults in this country to decide who they're going to look up to. Who did the (the accused boys) come in contact with who could have taught them right from wrong and didn't?"

Clinton has identified a terrible truth about role models: The fathers of the two boys accused of killing the 5-year-old are in prison. The boys, both with arrest records, are emulating their dads. "We must be worried about this wave upon wave . . . of these little children who don't have somebody both good and strong to look up to, who are so vulnerable that their hearts can be turned to stone by the time they're 10 or 11 years old. And when there is a good one _ a 5- or 10-year-old kid in difficult circumstances, blooming like a flower in the desert, knowing that it's wrong to steal candy _ he actually has his life at risk."

By weighing in on parental responsibility in such a personal manner, Clinton is using the bully pulpit of the nation's highest office as it should be used: to speak honestly and passionately to the American people on issues that determine the quality of our lives. Clinton expresses his innermost feelings better than most of his recent predecessors. We hope he will keep it up.

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