PRESIDENT CLINTON stood all alone at the peak of the Group of Seven economic summit this weekend, which is just where he wanted to be, in spite of some buffeting gusts against American trade bullying.
In remarks directed equally to his fellow government leaders in Lyon, France, and to his Republican challenger, Bob Dole, the president could brag that the U.S. had created 9.7 million jobs since he took office, while the other six nations accounted only for a paltry 300,000.
The strong U.S. performance has coincided with dismal tidings from overseas. Japan is only now coming out of a three-year recession. German output declined during the first quarter of this year. France is plagued with near-record 12.3 percent unemployment. Italy can't make its 1997 target -- a deficit only 3 percent of gross domestic product. Both Britain and Canada are just middling along.
For Mr. Clinton, Business Week magazine's assertion that the "economy is really cooking" comes just as the Dole campaign camp is preparing a fall attack on "Clintonomics." The Republican presidential contender will argue that Americans would not be so worried about job security and that growth would be greater if Mr. Clinton had not increased taxes in 1993.
But the very fact the GOP focus has had to shift from expectations of a weaker economy to a "we could do better" theme reinforces the common wisdom that prosperity helps an incumbent president -- even in the face of mounting scandals. Consumer confidence is up. Unemployment is down around 5.6 percent. Inflation is under control. Take-home pay is up. No wonder some of Mr. Clinton's fellow summiteers expressed "envy."
Admiration on the part of leaders from Europe and Japan, however, did not extend to the U.S. attempt to punish foreign governments and companies that trade with Cuba, Iran and Libya. "Economic retaliation is most ineffective," said French President Jacques Chirac. The G-7 communique slapped at America's unilateralist legislation, saying nations should avoid "taking trade and investment measures that would be in contradiction" to multilateral trading rules. Mr. Clinton brushed it off.
No longer was the United States being scolded for horrendous deficits or for letting the dollar decline. The president was first among supposed equals, quite ready to throw his weight around and quite ready to argue "Clintonomics" with Senator Dole.
' Pub date: 06/30/96