WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- President-elect Bill Clinton, saying he wa beginning "to prepare mentally to become president," yesterday made building a better world the theme of his first full day in the nation's capital.
Whether it is by improving the U.S. military's response to "new and continuing threats," energizing the young to serve their nation, or pursuing the dream of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Clinton sounded a call to make the nation and the world a better place to live.
On a day when U.S.-led warplanes thundered into Iraq for another bombing raid, the president-elect said at a meeting with diplomats: "America cannot and should not bear the world's burdens alone. But if we work together we can make great progress in making this a better world for all of our citizens.
"We can address global problems -- environmental decay, the scourge of AIDS, the threat to our children and our communities of narcotics trafficking and the plight of millions of refugees around the world."
He recalled the influence on him as a Georgetown University student of a professor who argued that the "defining idea of western civilization" is the notion of "future preference," which he defined as "the idea that the future can be better than the present and that each of us has a personal moral responsibility to make it so."
He told students at Georgetown: "I ask you to remember that we ran to give you a better future, but also to challenge you to build that future. We'll do our part . . . You have an obligation -- you cannot let yourselves be the first generation of Americans to do worse than your parents.
"You can do better than we have done in healing the racial and other wounds of this country, and pulling this country together."
And at a ceremony honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Howard University, he recalled how on Sunday he had started his journey to Washington from the home of Thomas Jefferson, who created the doctrine of equal rights, and ended it at the memorial to Abraham Lincoln, who abolished slavery.
He quoted the Dec. 17, 1964, speech at the Harlem Armory in New York, in which Dr. King said getting the Nobel Peace Prize had taken him to the "mountain top," but that he was called back to "the valley" by people in need of hope and escape.
Picking up the theme, Mr. Clinton said: "I was born in the valley, and lifted to this office on the hopes and dreams of people in the valleys all across this country, people who could far more easily find us on a bus than ever at an airport.
"Now in these heady days on America's mountaintop, we must remember, with Dr. Martin Luther King, that we have much work to do, against stiff odds, with not a day to waste."
That work was clearly progressing apace yesterday as two top Clinton aides, chief of staff Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty and personnel chief Bruce Lindsey, were spotted entering the White House. "We are getting organized. We are going to do a little business," said Mr. McLarty.
It was a 15-hour day, during which Mr. Clinton gave nine speeches, met with foreign diplomats, sought to inspire the students, joined the celebration in honor of Dr. King, and attended one lunch and four dinners.
The 10,000 guests at the four dinners paid $1,500 a seat, which will go toward the cost of making other inaugural events free. The luncheon was for a more restricted group -- just 53 children and adults who so touched Mr. Clinton during the campaign that he called them "faces of hope."
Mr. Clinton told the group: "Fifteen months ago I entered a race for president that, truth be known, even my mother didn't think I could win. But I believed very strongly that our country was not going in the right direction -- that we were coming apart and we ought to be pulling together.
"I want you to know that as president I'll make my mistakes," said Mr. Clinton, adding he would be a president who acts -- "and people who do, err. But we tried the other way, and it hasn't worked out very well."
The president-elect was out jogging at dawn, running the 2.9 miles from Blair House to the Capitol and back to the White House, the same journey he will make in more style during his inauguration. Outside the White House he shook hands and chatted with workers constructing the viewing stand from which the presidential party will watch the parade.
"It's beautiful," he said.
Of his welcome to Washington Sunday night, which ended with a fireworks display, he said: "It was unbelievable. I was just overwhelmed by it."
There was some welcome news for Mr. Clinton yesterday. A new survey showed increasing economic confidence among the nation's business executives. The survey, conducted by the Reuters news agency and Public Broadcasting Service's nightly business report, showed 70 percent of the business leaders polled expecting the economy to improve under Mr. Clinton.
A CBS-New York Times poll also showed Mr. Clinton advancing. His favorable rating was at 45 percent, up from 19 percent last fall, and confidence in his ability to handle a world crisis moved from 27 percent to 49 percent.
But Mr. Clinton's mind was clearly on foreign as well as domestic issues yesterday.
With crises abroad and problems at home piling up in the Oval Office in-basket, it is the sort of dual policy focus he will have to apply as of his inauguration tomorrow.
Briefed privately on Sunday evening by Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mr. Clinton appeared as firm as ever yesterday in supporting the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq confrontation, but he made it equally clear he would not let it overshadow his inauguration.
Quickly asserting his presence in the capital, Mr. Clinton told an early morning meeting of the assembled Washington diplomatic corps that there would be "essential continuity" in U.S. foreign policy despite the transfer of power, and warned Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that "America's resolve during this transition period will not waver."
He told the ambassadors: "The policy of this country will remain American policy after January 20th," adding: "Yet the world has changed in fundamental ways, and we also must change with it."
The Clinton administration's foreign policy would be built on three pillars: economic security at home to enable "active engagement abroad"; continuing "prudent" defense reductions that would not be allowed to undercut "American resolve"; and the spread of democratic values, "because it is in the interest of America and the world at large."