Clinton adulation eclipses the trial

STILL ON trial in the Senate for his job and his legacy, President Bill Clinton was riding higher yesterday than at almost any other time in his six-year presidency after a triumphant State of the Union address on Tuesday night and an impressive defence from his lead lawyer, Charles Ruff, in the Senate that afternoon. As his lawyers prepared for the second day of his Senate defence, opinion polls showed his job approval rate soaring, to 70 per cent and higher.

Basking in the adulation of his friends and the grudging admiration of many foes, Mr Clinton turned his back on Washington politics for the day and flew to New York State and Pennsylvania to take his message of a strong America, more energised - as he put it - and more prosperous than ever, direct to the people.

But even as he left Washington, one of the key policy proposals in his State of the Union address was coming under attack from Alan Greenspan,chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Questioned by members of Congress at a House committee hearing, Mr Greenspan said he opposed any measure that would lead to funds from the United States state pension scheme being invested in stock markets. Mr Clinton had suggested that a part of the massive budget surplus be put into stocks to help to head off the system's bankruptcy as the baby-boom generation reached retirement.

Mr Greenspan said he believed that investment by the Government would cause big problems for the stock market. "Because I do not believe that it is politically feasible to insulate such huge funds from a governmental direction, I'm fearful that we will use those assets in a way which will create a lower rate of return - but even a greater concern, that it will create sub-optimal use of our capital resources and those assets which create our standard of living," he said.

Mr Greenspan's remarks indicated an unusual divergence of opinion between the two men who are jointly credited with the unprecedented run of growth enjoyed by the US in recent years. Even though the ideas set out in the State of the Union address are presidential intentions rather than national policy, and must be enshrined in Bills or the Budget and submitted to the Congress for approval, such an early rejection of a proposal from so authoritative a source is rare.

Outside Washington, however, the fine print of Mr Clinton's address was less significant than the overall impression it created: of a supremely confident President at the peak of his authority, exulting in the successes of his term and a half in office.

There was no hint of any concern about the fact that his audience contained the more than 200 Representatives responsible for his impeachment - in that very Chamber - or the 100 Senators who are his jurors by day on the other side of the Capitol. Although the constitutional process set in train by the allegations about Mr Clinton and Monica Lewinsky a year ago is now in its final, and crucial, stage, there seemed not a cloud on the President's horizon. Some even feared that his very self-assurance might turn the Senate against him: "He is almost taunting them," one commentator said.