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Whom are you calling a partisan, you shifty-eyed, un-American political hack?

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- So House Speaker Newt Gingrich says he is shocked, shocked, that President Clinton is playing politics in a presidential election year -- by calling for a moratorium on politics until later this year.

Mr. Clinton's urging that politics be put aside for now on various legislative proposals, the speaker says, is "such phony posturing" that voters "get sick of all of us," and is an "astonishingly shallow gimmick unworthy of the president of the United States."

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The notion that Mr. Gingrich, one of the most conspicuously politics-driven speakers in memory, would be astonished that an incumbent president seeking re-election would play politics in an election year is itself astonishing, if not laughable.

Ever since Mr. Gingrich set his party on a course of "revolution" ,, to change the way Democrats had been doing business in Washington for 40 years, he has hardly missed an opportunity, nor has President Clinton either, to play the political game.

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With both major-party presumptive nominees heavily engaged in the legislative battle, the president from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole from the other, it has been inevitable that partisan presidential politics would be central to all that would be said and done from either end.

Mr. Clinton's call for a moratorium on politics-as-usual is, to be sure, what Republican National Chairman Haley Barbour labeled "transparent, phony hypocrisy." But so are the crocodile tears he and Mr. Gingrich are shedding over the thought that an incumbent president seeking re-election would use the platform his office affords him to paint himself as a good guy and the opposition as the villain.

The president's self-serving plea to the Republicans controlling Congress to put aside partisanship comes as many leading members of Senator Dole's party are debating the political wisdom of his retaining the majority leadership while running for president. The issue is not the propriety of doing so, but whether holding onto the job is the best way to achieve the optimum political advantage as the GOP's prospective presidential nominee.

Worse in election years

Partisanship always raises its head higher in Washington in a presidential-election year, whether or not an incumbent president is seeking re-election or the other candidate is a leader or leading figure in Congress. The fact that both presumptive nominees sit smack in the middle of the Washington political caldron inevitably compounds the partisan coloration of all that is occurring here this year.

In this latest brouhaha over whether Mr. Clinton is or isn't playing politics by calling for a hiatus in the playing of it, there certainly is much truth in what both sides are saying.

The president argues with validity that in maneuverings over a gas-tax cut, a minimum-wage increase and other pending legislation, the Republicans "want to load the bills up with poison pills, measures the Republicans are inserting in the legislation to make sure I will veto it, so they can pretend it's not just the poison pill I'm against, but the bill itself."

Senator Dole with equal validity points to the frustrating tactic of Democratic Senators Tom Daschle and Ted Kennedy in tying their minimum-wage boost to just about every piece of Republican legislation that comes to the Senate floor.

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In other words, the presidential political season is on and both sides are playing ball with a vengeance. Mr. Clinton's pious declaiming of political purity is par for the course from a sitting president deftly using the threat of his veto power to cast himself as a defender of the downtrodden in the face of congressional chicanery.

And Mr. Gingrich's equally pious expression of shock at the president's doing so is like a professional wrestler feigning surprise about being on the receiving end of a foul blow.

Lyndon Johnson was once quoted as saying: "I seldom think of (( politics more than 18 hours a day." And, in Mr. Dooley's immortal words, politics ain't beanbag.

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover report from The Sun's Washington bureau.

Pub Date: 5/10/96


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