icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle


The Bill Clinton Phenomenon

I've never been a fan of Bill Clinton, nor, for that matter, of Hillary. Yet, in my personal dislike for the man, I am in a distinct minority.

Despite being just the second president in our history to have been impeached by the House of Representatives (like Andrew Johnson, he was acquitted by the Senate), Bill Clinton now enjoys almost superstar approval ratings among the American public. Right before the Democratic National Convention in 2012, Clinton, who was to be the event's principal speaker and President Obama's much needed "Secretary of Explaining Stuff," was polling a 69-percent favorability rating. That number would have been north of 80 percent, undoubtedly, if only Democrats were asked. Even now, as Obama's poll numbers settle in the low 40-percent range, Bill Clinton is still over the 60-percent mark. He is clearly the Democratic equivalent of the Teflon Man, himself—Ronald Reagan.

I don't get it. Not only did Clinton disgrace the office of the presidency, he signed into law bills that hang like dead albatrosses around the nation's economic neck. Glass-Steagall, for example—the Great Depression-era safeguard that prevented commercial banks from engaging in speculative investments with depositors' money, the law that kept our banking system sound, until Congress and Clinton repealed it. The absence of that control precipitated the near collapse of our economy in late 2008.

I know that Clinton was the last president to balance the budget, and for that he deserves some credit, as do a booming "dot com" economy at the time and revenue-rich income tax rates enacted by Congress.

Clinton's foreign policy failures also loom large. His sending an undersized military force into Mogadishu, Somalia, to capture a pesky warlord resulted in the "Black Hawk Down" scenario. The sight of dead American soldiers being dragged through the streets of the city, amid cheering crowds, still haunts . . . and remains unavenged.

There is also some evidence that Clinton bungled an early chance to get Osama bin Laden, a missed opportunity the magnitude of which is hard to comprehend.

President Obama draws flack everyday for exercising restraint and, for now, keeping us out of Syria's civil war. Yes, 100,000 Syrians have died and a million more live in squalid refugee camps, but given our fiasco in Iraq, we have no real choice but to avoid further forays into the Middle East's centuries-old tribal and religious wars. But what was Clinton's excuse for ignoring the genocide in Rwanda, where millions were butchered? He regrets his inaction now, but the true test of character would have been to take action when it mattered, not regret failure later.

Clinton wasn't the first president to take advantage of an intern. His hero, John F. Kennedy, did him one better by not only using a 19- or 20-year-old girl for his own sexual gratification, but also persuading the girl, one afternoon, to service a crony at the other end of the White House swimming pool. The girl finally balked when Kennedy asked her to perform the same act on brother Teddy.

Clinton and Kennedy aside, politicians behaving badly is the natural order of things, it seems, as we are so graphically reminded by the sordid details emanating recently from New York and San Diego. Clinton eventually got a pass after he lied under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. It was only sex, Clinton apologists said, and married men are expected to lie about extra-marital sex. But it wasn't only sex. It was a stunning failure of self-control. It was a horrendous failure of judgment.

I don't like the slipperiness of the man. Can anyone forget his remark, "It depends on what the definition of is is."

After Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and 34 other Americans were killed in a 1996 plane crash in Croatia, Clinton and all of official Washington attended the memorial service. One television shot, in particular, sticks in my mind. Clinton was leaving the church, carrying a bible and talking with a companion in an animated, light-hearted way. Then, there was an almost imperceptible moment—I caught it and I am sure others did, too—when Clinton turned and saw cameras trained on him. In a flash, his demeanor went from smiles and head-back laughter to a somber facial expression more appropriate to the occasion. Slippery.

Marc Rich is another case in point. Rich was an indicted fugitive from justice, for financial crimes, when Clinton, on the day he left office, granted him a presidential pardon. Rich's former wife, Denise Rich, was a prominent Democratic campaign contributor and had donated large sums to Clinton's future presidential library. It is almost impossible to prove a quid pro quo in mundane cases of official misconduct and bribery, let alone such conduct on a presidential level. But that incident stunk to high heaven.

And so, Bill Clinton has transformed himself into the avuncular figure we see today—presidential advisor and troubleshooter, global humanitarian, and, perhaps, future First Husband. I don't begrudge him those successes, but I have a hard time giving him much respect.

Knowing how I like to read history and, especially, biography, my kids bought me a copy of My Life, Bill Clinton's inanely titled autobiography, soon after it came out. It has sat on a bookcase shelf ever since, unopened.
Post a comment