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WASHINGTON INSIGHT

From The Times Washington Bureau

A STEALTHIER STEALTH CONSULTANT: With Republicans and some congressional Democrats alike complaining about Dick Morris’ advice, President Clinton has been under some pressure to do without his ideologically switch-hitting political consultant. No deal, the White House steadfastly insists. But the Clinton camp has adopted a new tactical approach: Morris, who dispenses hard-hitting advice to GOP and Democratic politicians, has decided to take an even lower profile, avoiding even off-the-record interviews with reporters and any contacts with outsiders on behalf of the White House that could put his name in the news. He’s “laying low,” as one top White House aide put it. This approach may help calm the waters, but it won’t entirely satisfy the Democrats, who think the best way to make Morris a non-issue is to make him less, not more, mysterious to the outside world.

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MY AMERICAN DETOUR: One morning last week, the flagship Barnes & Noble store in Manhattan featured huge window displays for retired Gen. Colin L. Powell’s best-selling autobiography, “My American Journey.” That afternoon, Powell announced he would not seek the presidency. By next morn, Powell’s journey had detoured into bookstore oblivion. Barnes & Noble had pulled the display, as had many other bookstores in New York and Washington.

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JESSE’S CHOICE: While Republicans were burning up long-distance lines in the wake of Powell’s no-go announcement, Clinton’s most significant political call was strictly local--to downtown D.C. and the Rainbow Coalition headquarters of Jesse Jackson. Mindful that Powell’s decision freed Jackson to consider his own run for the presidency without having to compete against Powell for black votes, Clinton wanted reassurance that Jackson would stay on the sidelines. When an aide asked about Jackson’s response, his only answer was an enigmatic grin. But the two-time presidential contender faces a dilemma that is nothing to laugh about. Running as an independent in 1996, Jackson would undoubtedly draw black votes away from Clinton and could be blamed for the President’s defeat. Yet as one Jackson adviser asks pointedly: “With Clinton shifting to the right, if Jesse doesn’t run, how much credibility will he have left as a liberal leader?”

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FALSE PREMISE: In diplomacy, and perhaps tennis, never yield the advantage unless you have it. Last week, as Bosnia peace talks proceeded at an Air Force base near Dayton, Ohio, U.S. peace envoy Richard Holbrooke and Croatia’s President Franjo Tudjman found time for a bit of doubles. Early in the first game, Holbrooke’s aide and tennis partner Chris Hill fired a shot past the ear of the 73-year-old Croatian leader. Holbrooke whispered to Hill that he should go lightly with the president, because, after all, Washington wants to get his signature on a peace agreement. But Goliath, it turns out, had eased up on David. Tudjman and partner, identified as his doctor, proved to be superior--so much so that scarcely into the first set, the fiercely competitive Holbrooke abandoned any thought of scoring diplomatic points. Tudjman and partner won all three sets by lopsided margins.


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