EDITION 9
RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 22, 1999
TOPIC: THE FEDERAL BUDGET SURPLUS
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The President's Diapers
   by Albert Paschall

     President Clinton is no guiltier than any other President, at least in the area of legacy. As he potentially approaches his last 700 days in office, undoubtedly one of his top priorities will be crafting his image in history. Even if he isn’t convicted, the stain of impeachment will be harder to clean from his record than the one on the infamous blue dress. Unlike Bush who enjoyed the ultimate results of Reagan’s presidency this president has few choices. If he is going to have a legacy he’ll just have to go out and buy it.

     But before he does that he may just want to shop around, not just pull some legacy off the shelf. A good place to start would be a supermarket. He probably hasn’t been inside one for more than 8 years and the changes will undoubtedly surprise him. Most of them have mini bank branches, if he stops by there he’ll find the lowest rate of consumer savings in American history. A fast food fan, the prepared dinner section will probably whet his appetite, though he won’t like the long lines of rushed working people who are too tired or busy to cook dinner. If he wanders through the paper goods section he will be astonished to find that disposable diapers are almost 30 cents each. For your basic clean that’s almost $500. a year.

     The President will learn quickly that a domestic legacy is going to be expensive but he’ll be comforted by his own prediction of more than $2.7 trillion in surplus funds over the next 15 years. So buying the legacy will be easy on him just a bit expensive for the rest of us.

     In 1961 when a White House visit inspired the young Bill Clinton to seek the presidency only 34% of American households had two working parents. Today nearing the end of that inspiration that number is reversed. Now more than 70% of families with school age children have both parents working outside the home. At the height of the cold war, Kennedy pushed to cut taxes from the average 6% of income that the Federal Government took. When the entire combined load of Federal, State and Local taxes began to approach 10% of income in 1962 Kennedy seriously worried about his re-election prospects. Today as the average combined tax weight approaches 40 cents on a dollar for middle class families the President is cheered wildly as he finds new ways to spend it.

But the President has made a plan to give the money back. At a time when seniors citizens are forced to sell homes and businesses by an all time high tax burden Mr. Clinton has found 250 bucks to give any working parent who leaves their job to take care of a child under a year old.

     Think of the things they can do with that money! That’s almost 6 months of disposable diapers, maybe a month of infant formula or even two whole weeks of reformed health care insurance premiums. Imagine a generation from now, when socially secured baby-boomers take their grand children to see the Little Rock Legacy of the guy who kept them dry for their first 180 days as Americans.

     It’s unlikely that the President’s diapers will be his only legacy. Surely in the 16,000 hours that Bill Clinton has left in the White House he will work on an image of statesmanship, diplomacy and domestic compassion. Despite his best efforts though it’s likely that history will focus on the personal challenges and precedents that he created in the Oval office. Some day the President may look back on the next 23 months and regret that he tried to spend his way into history when the opportunity was there to finally relieve the crushing Federal tax burden on American families. Down in Little Rock in some super market long after the capital beltway devours the $2.7 trillion, the former President may notice that 250 bucks buys only 3 months of diapers for his grand children and really regret that’s all he spent to buy a place in the history books. He may only learn then that history can be cruel and shallow legacies with lost opportunities for true leadership are usually discarded faster than a used diaper.

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Albert Paschall is senior commentator for the Lincoln Institute Of Public Opinion Research a non-profit educational foundation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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