Mugger: Bill of Wrongs

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Barring the still-unlikely event that Hillary Clinton is elected president this November—which would entail not only corrupting the Democratic Party’s very weird nomination process as well as mending fences with outraged African Americans—the most satisfying result for Republicans would be Bill Clinton’s exit from the national stage. If Barack Obama prevails, perhaps Clinton might land an ambassadorship to St. Lucia; if it’s John McCain, he can expect nothing.

Those of us who opposed Clinton during his contentious presidency—the gargantuan ego (even for a politician); the constant hypocrisy, best exemplified when he declared his kinship with Americans “playing by the rules,” even when his fundraisers engaged in dubious and maybe illegal methods; the initial lies about Monica Lewinsky, turning a tawdry but largely irrelevant bout of adultery into a crippling and prolonged scandal; and, upon leaving office, the pardon of ‘jes folks fugitive Marc Rich—will be delighted to see him go.

Better yet, a sizable percentage of his own supporters, who clamored for a third Clinton term in 2000, are disgusted by his conduct during this campaign: not only because of his outrageous and incorrect comparison of the Jesse Jackson and Obama candidacies in South Carolina but also his inability to let his wife take the spotlight this year. The noxious slogan from ’92, “Two for the price of one,” which enchanted liberals and feminists who envisioned a First Lady who did more than choose the color of curtains and suggested menus for state dinners, has taken on a new and ugly significance.

Bill Clinton has, in a rapid and wholly unexpected twist of Democratic orthodoxy, become political baggage. The former chief executive, in keeping with his appalling me-myself-and-I character, wasn’t shy, even at the height of his popularity while in office, in regretting that his “legacy” was diminished because he wasn’t a wartime president. Now, after his self-serving performances across the country this year, he’ll be consigned, even by sympathetic historians, to the purgatory of a “middle-tier” presidency, maybe lumped together with Grover Cleveland instead of Harry Truman. Just the thought of this new reality—with his wife in office, the opportunity to burnish his record was tantalizing—has probably aged Clinton 10 years.

Vanity Fair’s Michael Wolff—who’d rather give up a book advance than vote Republican—claims in a curious June column that adultery will comprise the bulk of Clinton’s legacy. He writes: “The Clinton-Lewinsky drama—as documentary a look at sexuality as Kinsey—created a virtual racial stereotype of middle-aged [white male] desire, an Amos ‘N Andy of sexual need.” Wolff’s unmistakable brief for Obama is explained by the conjecture that Americans want to elect a president who doesn’t need to get some on the side. “Against these middle-aged people, he’s the naturalist,” Wolff says, “the credible and hopeful figure of a man who might actually be having sex with his smiling, energetic, and oomphy wife.” It’s hard to argue with Wolff’s borderline salacious description of Michele Obama as “oomphy,” but it’s plain silly of him to describe the Senator as “young.” Obama is 46, and if that’s not middle-aged—in fact, Wolff’s not that much older—well, who knows, maybe people will reach 120 years sooner rather than later.

Anyway, let’s also not forget that the goofy appellation given to Bill Clinton by Toni Morrison as America’s “first black president,” now seems like a bit on a late-night comedy show. (He was also called, by awestruck admirers, the first “woman,” “gay” and “Hispanic” president, but those labels were deemed silly even the 1990s.)
It’s worth citing a passage (thanks to The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto for digging up the piece) from Morrison’s 1998 New Yorker essay: “Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black president. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children’s lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing [this is unique to blacks?], McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.”

Now, just 10 years later, a mere decade, there’s the very real possibility that Obama, who doesn’t have white skin, will become president. For Clinton, paraphrasing the Grateful Dead, what a short, strange trip it’s been.
The former president takes particular umbrage at Obama’s repeated stump speeches in which he doesn’t pay due deference in differentiating the administrations of Clinton and his widely reviled successor. The gall! In the May 5 New Yorker, Ryan Lizza, in a “I can see both sides of the story” and ultimately tepid essay about the burst Bill Clinton bubble, bent the ear of an anonymous Hillary adviser, who told him, “I think this campaign has enraged [Bill]… He doesn’t like Obama.” I guess not, considering that the frontrunner repeatedly says that Clinton, as well as Bush, is responsible for the loss of heartland jobs and the supposed Wall Street culture that envelops Washington.

In truth, I think two of Clinton’s most laudable accomplishments were his Welfare Reform Act (regardless of the political expediency that motivated him, cutting off Bob Dole’s legs in the ’96 campaign) and his successful and bitter effort to pass the NAFTA legislation. That Obama strikes a protectionist pose—which would naturally lead to an unwise nativist stance on immigration, even if he won’t admit it—is one reason, among many, that I prefer John McCain; but just imagine how seriously this pisses off Bill Clinton.

Still, what possessed the man once called “The Natural,” for his legendary campaigning skills, to call South Carolina’s Rep. James Clyburn in the middle of the night (according to Lizza’s mole) and rant at him for nearly an hour? Clyburn, who is black and influential, said later: “It’s pretty widespread now that African-Americans have lost a whole lot of respect for Bill Clinton.”

But far more damaging for the multimillionaire, jet-setting Clinton is that his constituency in the mainstream media has also lost respect for him. Apologists like historian/essayist David Greenberg and the cartoonish James Carville notwithstanding, that spells defeat for the egocentric Arkansan who once dreamed of a posterity that mentioned his name in the same sentences as John F. Kennedy.

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