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Clinton Takes Time Out for Golf, Gabfest

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With the budget breakdown unfixed and federal workers still uneasy, President Clinton opened the new year by tackling nothing more difficult than driving golf balls through the rain after staying up until 2 a.m. Monday gabbing with friends.

In a somewhat frantic one-day sojourn, Clinton flew with his family to this coastal playland to take part in the high-achievers’ retreat called Renaissance Weekend and indulge his love of golf despite intense downpours.

Some 280,000 federal workers remained on furlough, and the budget talks, stalled for months, were poised at what could be a climactic stage. Clinton had agreed, however, with House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) on a 48-hour break until tonight, opening up enough time for the Clintons to make their 12th consecutive appearance at the retreat.

“It’s one day,” he called to reporters, sounding somewhat apologetic, as he left from the Hilton Head Hyatt Regency on Monday morning for the sodden, Spanish moss-draped links. He thrust one finger into the air to emphasize the brief duration of this break.

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Not that he was really able to banish thoughts of the budget fight, the biggest domestic issue of the new year and the old one too. Far from it.

The president spent New Year’s Eve at a crowded banquet hall with 1,200 others at the Renaissance Weekend, an event at which accomplished people of diverse backgrounds are supposed to share deepest thoughts about themselves, their families and the state of the republic.

Clinton got up to speak shortly before midnight, rambled through his usual oration on the state of the country, but promised his audience that they would be proud if they knew what was going on behind closed doors in the budget talks.

He didn’t leave it there. After midnight, when the group sang “Auld Lang Syne” and “God Bless America” to a piano accompaniment, Clinton waded out into the center of the room and carried on for 90 more minutes or so about the budget issues with a group of journalists, business people, economists and others. One man who took part came away convinced that the talks may really bear fruit, and impressed by Clinton’s grasp of the labyrinthine budget issues.

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“This is a serious negotiation,” said Robert Hormats, an economist in four presidential administrations who is now vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International in New York. While Clinton revealed no secrets, he said, it was clear the talks have moved beyond a sloganeering stage.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke before the president, describing her travels and her new book, “It Takes a Village,” about raising children. Some people had told her, she said, that the book should be titled “It Takes a Family.” But she said that in a country with so many splintered homes and stubborn problems, non-family members need to take responsibility for young people as well.

Nearby was the Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea, 15, who came clutching history books, to see friends she has made over the years at the event.

This year’s participants included Olympic track star Edwin Moses, former Wimbledon champ Stan Smith, “Star Trek” actor George Takei and linguist Deborah Tannen.

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The weekend is generally viewed as leaning toward the liberal end of the political spectrum. Conservatives staged a “Dark Ages Weekend” in Miami as a spoof of the Renaissance Weekend.

But the Renaissance organizers sprinkled in a few more conservative voices and non-Democratic points of view this year: conservative columnist John Leo, “Bell Curve” author Charles Murray, Jersey City, N.J., Mayor Brent Schundler, a Republican, and Citizens for Colin L. Powell founder Charles Kelly.

Some White House aides have privately shuddered at the thought of Clinton relaxing and airing thoughts about his inner feelings at a time of fiscal crisis. The White House, after all, has been sounding alarms for weeks about the deepening dangers of the federal shutdown.

But Clinton, who was needled by GOP leaders for golfing during an earlier stage in the crisis, was not to be denied.

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And in the official White House view, Clinton was entitled to a break, since the partial government shutdown was the work of Republicans trying to use it as a weapon to impose their fiscal views.

Clinton’s rivals gave him a bit of political cover, in any case. Dole headed for New Hampshire to campaign for Clinton’s job, and Gingrich went home to Georgia to spend the break with his family, after canceling plans to attend the Dark Ages Weekend.


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