Clinton outlines vision in 'Hope and History' book

by Jack Vaitayanonta | 9/24/96 5:00am

"History says, Don't hope/ On this side of the grave./ But then, once in a lifetime/ The longed-for tidal wave/ Of justice can rise up,/ And hope and history rhyme."

With these words by Nobel Prize-winner and Irish poet Seamus Heaney begins the recently-released book by President Bill Clinton, titled "Between Hope and History: Meeting America's Challenges For the 21st Century."

In this work, Clinton lays out his vision for America as it approaches a new era and the steps he and his Administration have taken over the last three and a half years to help fulfill that vision.

Critics may scoff at "Between Hope and History" as merely another weapon in the arsenal of the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign, written just in time to boost the president's current lead over Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole. But such a simplistic view would be only partially correct.

Aside from the numerous books on the campaign, ranging from provocative to informative to sleazy, it seems that anyone who has a stake in this campaign is putting pen to paper to send their message out to the masses.

Dole, along with his wife Elizabeth, revised their biography "Unlimited Partners" just in time for the election season. Ross Perot, along with Illinois Senator Paul Simon, has written a tract on the budget deficit and the looming crisis in Medicare.

But Clinton's book serves another purpose by articulating his ideas, giving a clearer picture of where he wishes to lead the nation, and revealing his desire to communicate with the public. This has been especially important because both liberals and conservatives often have a difficult time discerning what his core beliefs are.

The book is short and quick reading. Some could probably finish it between their 10A and 2A periods.

The book is divided into three parts, each emphasizing the core American values of opportunity, responsibility and community. "Between Hope and History" is a primary example of political consultant Dick Morris's strategy of "triangulation," by which Clinton distances himself from both the liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans while seizing the sensible ideas of both camps.

In the first part, Clinton embraces the Democratic mantra of "Opportunity." The central theme states that America must not back away from the commitment to provide all of its people with the opportunity to reach their fullest potential.

He writes, "At the turn of the century, immigrants used to write to their relatives and friends back home that in America the streets were paved with gold. And in a way, they were."

"The real 'gold' that paved our streets was the golden opportunity for people from any background to be able, through hard work and ingenuity, to make a fresh start in life."

In one touching story, Clinton describes the story of Marilyn Concepcion, who in 1984 moved with her mother from Puerto Rico to Providence, R.I., at the age of 10 in hopes of a better life.

While she did well for a while, she dropped out of high school and moved between odd jobs -- in factories, delis, movie theaters -- often. But then she found out about Americorps, a national service program created by Clinton.

She applied and became an aide in an elementary school teaching English as a Second Language. It sparked her interest in learning.

Concepcion then studied and earned a high school equivalency diploma. She was asked to join the Americorps staff and then chosen to help create a program in San Jose, California. Last fall, at the age of 21, she entered Brown University as a pre-medical student with the hope of returning to her community as a doctor.

But Clinton does not spare in his criticism of the Republicans in Congress. He describes the conditions during the recession of 1991-92 -- falling wages, high unemployment and American companies falling behind.

He explicitly links the economic recovery and drop in the budget deficit with his economic policies, the centerpiece of which was the economic plan of 1993.

Clinton also discusses his commitment to defending opportunity as evidenced by the battles with Republicans over the budget and the subsequent shutdowns of the federal government.

"I believe, as I said in my State of the Union Address, that the era of big government is over. But I do not believe that we can abandon our obligations to our children, our parents, our grandparents, or to future generations."

The section includes proposals for investments in technology and research and tax relief for child-rearing and education, including a $10,000 per year tax deduction for post-secondary education, which he compares to the G.I. bill that helped veterans of World War II go to college.

In the second section titled, "Responsibility," the president says Americans must not only maintain their liberties, but have responsibilities to the community at large, relatives, children, neighbors and co-workers.

He cites progress made in this area by the Administration -- welfare reform, crime prevention, reinventing the federal government, health care reform and environmental protection.

Clinton sounds very much like a Republican when he speaks about the need for responsibility to break the cycle of welfare -- the responsibility for young women and men not to contribute to teenage pregnancy, for fathers to support their children, for parents to provide children a safe home and teach them responsible behavior, and for churches, community organizations and public officials to take a role.

"Responsibility," he writes, "is simply the flip side of opportunity, and together they represent the two sides of the coin of citizenship in this great nation."

In the final section on "Community," Clinton discusses a variety of issues that he believes will contribute to a greater unity among Americans and sense of belonging in the world. They range from the V-chip to military action in Haiti and Bosnia to expanding trade with China to school uniforms to school prayer.

But the most moving sections occur when Clinton writes about the need to heal our ethnic and racial divisions and quotes the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "We must learn to live together as brothers, or we shall perish as fools."

So is this book political? Just read the implicit criticism of Dole's tax-cut plan. Is it a device to be used in the campaign? Of course, it serves the same purpose as did his 1992 book, "Putting People First," with Vice President Al Gore. Is it anything we haven't heard before? Not if one has listened to his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.

But nevertheless, it is an interesting and inspirational work, and it is rare for a sitting president to write a book. Just as Franklin Roosevelt's fireside chats helped to assuage the fears of a nation during a period of crisis, "Between Hope and History" can help Americans learn more about where we are headed in an unstable time.

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