Clinton Is Blowing Smoke

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The revelation that in 1973, R.J. Reynolds actively recruited young smokers has President Clinton pounding his bully pulpit for that tobacco settlement. The ugly truth -- and don't tell Al Gore -- is that Clinton doesn't really care.

"For Clinton this is politics as usual," says TIME correspondent Bruce Van Voorst, who has been tracking the deal. "He'll play the game, but if there's no bill he'll simply blame the Republicans." Which explains Clinton's staggering announcement that the settlement's tobacco revenues would be included in the new budget -- thus linking the phantom deal to all sorts of government goodies for voting Americans. "If they don't happen," says Van Voorst, "Well, the Republicans blew it. And, then Clinton can call them the party of Big Tobacco money."

Clinton has never even formally endorsed the settlement. And he has yet to submit anything in legislative language to the Hill. He's not helping a bit, because politically he's better off without it.