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A weary Clinton should let Roosevelt speak for him

A reader, Bob Dick of Georgia Southern University, has sent in a tape of a great political speech, one that was made by President Franklin D. Roosevelt 58 years ago. He suggests it should be used at Democratic fund-raisers.

I have a better use for it, I think. Our exhausted president should send it around to the rallies he was scheduled to address in the last nine days of the election. With all respect, this speech could not be improved upon. Just hearing Roosevelt's incomparably heartening voice, saying things that, except for war references, apply to what is going on today, would cheer "the enemies of normal people" as scourge Newt Gingrich, House GOP whip, likes to call Democrats.

Even the name of the speech _ "We have only just begun to fight" _ is apt. Democrats braced for wipeout have looked up and seen the faint outlines of a rainbow. Look at Texas _ only divine intervention can explain a flood that gave Ann Richards a chance to show her gubernatorial stuff. Rep. Michael Huffington, throaty advocate of punishing illegal immigrants, was discovered with a skeleton in his closet _ an illegal nanny of five years' service. In New York, His Honor Rudy Giuliani dropped his October surprise _ his stunning endorsement of Mario Cuomo, a Democrat not doing well in his quest for a fourth term.

What would Roosevelt think: Democrats dumping on a Democratic president and Republicans showing all the class? Democrats too dumb to notice that when Clinton rises for his foreign policy feats, they do, too?

Roosevelt told Democrats in Madison Square Garden on Oct. 31, 1936:

"We have not come this far without a struggle and I assure you we cannot go further without a struggle.

"For 12 years this nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing government. The nation looked to government but the government looked away. . . . Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that the government is best which is most indifferent.

"For nearly four years you have had an administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

"We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace _ business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism . . .

"They had begun to consider the government of the U.S. as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob."

Why Roosevelt instead of Clinton to talk to Democrats? Clinton is tired _ exhausted, in fact _ not just from a strenuous trip to the Middle East, but from absurd campaign exertions before it. And some people think he and the American people need a little rest from each other.

Ron Heifetz of Harvard has written a book about political leaders called Leadership Without Easy Answers, and he has been studying Clinton's problems. The president doesn't get credit for what he does because he does not have the trust of people, Heifetz says. His problem is that he puts himself in another person's shoes and cannot bear to cause pain to anyone. He especially can't fire people, according to Heifetz, and is surrounded by people who pursue their own agenda. Roosevelt sought strong characters who could prevail on him to do and look well.

Clinton's indecisiveness, says Heifetz, comes out of his life. He grew up with a drunken stepfather. His survival depended on ingratiating himself, and he's still doing it. Besides, "he grew up in the '60s, with my generation. It was not in our age culture to know the important need that people have for trustworthy authority."

He must contain himself; he must discipline himself. He talks too much.

Heifetz says Roosevelt knew how to garner trust, how to be an authority figure. He was part of an elite to whom people turned. Clinton, he thinks, should make himself less available, should not subject himself to slights which diminish his authority, should not let his presidency be treated like a dart board. He should talk through his actions.

Heifetz studied the president from afar. Elizabeth Drew studied him close-up for On the Edge, a book about the first 18 months of the Clinton presidency. Her conclusions correspond.

"Because of the public doubts about him, and because of the 'character' issue and also because he had been undisciplined in talking about his efforts, Clinton wasn't getting credit for his substantial achievements. His presidency was a blur. Moreover, his leverage with the Congress had diminished. Members had long since learned that there was nothing to fear from opposing him, but now his lack of popularity with the public provided little reason to stand with him. He received scant praise for an improved economy and 4-million new jobs."

He should stay home and rest. He told a Massachusetts rally two weeks ago that "the fog is beginning to lift." He should enjoy the sight from the Truman balcony.

Universal Press Syndicate