Charging that President Clinton's personal behavior has jeopardized American foreign policy, Republican senatorial candidate Matt Fong said Tuesday that the president is now weak enough to "embolden those who wish us ill."
In Washington on a whirlwind excursion to raise money, the California state treasurer delivered his most combative campaign rhetoric yet, saying Clinton's predicament raises questions at home and abroad about the purity of his motives as a world leader.
"The sad and inevitable consequence of the president's behavior is that every military action the United States takes on the global stage will be questioned . . . as to whether the motives are moral and justified or an attempt to distract from the president's troubles," Fong told a group of California business and political leaders.
The talk was tougher than usual for Fong, who is seeking to unseat Democratic incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer. (Indeed, he has been known to write a bruising speech without ever delivering it.)
Boxer, who did not attend the lunch, later called Fong's suggestion that Clinton has made the nation vulnerable to foreign enemies "reckless."
"No politician and no political candidate should ever suggest to our enemies that our country is anything but strong and united," the senator said. "Mr. Fong's statement is reckless."
Despite his pointed words, Fong continued to equivocate on the issue of whether Clinton should resign, and left the afternoon luncheon without answering questions. On Tuesday, he issued a highly qualified statement suggesting that Clinton should "seriously consider resigning" if the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice are true.
Although aides predicted that Fong would accuse Clinton of having bombed a factory in Sudan to divert attention from his troubles, the candidate stopped short of that allegation. He instead said the plant might not have been as strategic to terrorist operations as initially thought, adding that "when we attack them, we must be sure our intelligence is sound."
Fong's half-hour review of his foreign policy stand was clearly an attempt to look and sound more like a U.S. senator and less like a state treasurer.
Frequently conjuring up images of former President Ronald Reagan, Fong reiterated his support for a missile defense system, normalization of trade relations with China and policies that foster market economies.
But the bulk of his time was spent criticizing the president, with only two passing shots at his opponent.
On the subject of trade, Fong took a swipe at Boxer for having voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying exports pulled California out of its worst recession ever.
"What, I ask you, is a United States senator from California doing voting against trade?"
Boxer later replied: "If Matt Fong is so worried about trade . . . I don't understand why he opposes something that helps our trading partners stabilize their economies . . . so they can buy more American and California products and services," referring to Fong's opposition to increased U.S. contributions to the International Monetary Fund.
Shifting to national defense, Fong accused Boxer of ignoring terrorism when she voted against recent legislation favoring a missile detection system.
"Barbara Boxer, who sees the world through a rear-view mirror, is oblivious to the threat of terrorism," he charged.
Said Boxer: "It is Matt Fong who wants to go back--back to the weapons systems of the Cold War."