Jewish World Review Jan. 2, 2002 / 18 Teves, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- AS they filed into the Harlem office building last week, riding the elevator to the 14th-floor headquarters of former President Bill Clinton, they must have looked like something out of a Hercule Poirot episode, or maybe even a Thin Man movie: the inevitable round-up of the usual suspects, coming together at the appointed time at the behest of Mr. Big -- or, in this case, Mr. Big He.
There they were -- not all, but many of the familiar faces and voices (some participated via telephone) of the Clinton years: Maggie Williams, then Hillary Clinton's chief of staff, and now Bill's; confidante Bruce Lindsay; former national security advisor Sandy Berger; former energy secretary Bill Richardson; former deputy White House counsel Cheryl Mills; former Chief of Staff John D. Podesta and more.
Had they come together to solve, once and for all, the Case of the Lost Legacy? Hardly.
That is, this was no time for a post mortem. On the contrary, these once and future Clinton aides were gathered together not to move on, as they all used to say, but to dig in for a new kind of Clinton campaign -- not for another office, but for another image.
As The New York Times put it, Clinton is "frustrated" that his reputation has been "battered" since leaving office, most recently with all the talk of his failure to protect Americans from both Osama bin Laden and the current recession. As a result, he has decided to mount a "well-organized and aggressive" effort to save, not the nation, of course, but something nearer and dearer -- his face. Hence, the gathering of the Clinton clans (sans the wife and veep), which one anonymous participant described as a meeting of top lieutenants of a political campaign.
And why not? Amid a war on global terrorism and a worldwide recession, what could possibly be of greater urgency than burnishing Bill Clinton's tarnished reputation? Far be it for this former prez to waste his office space simply writing a book, or his time building a habitat. Accordingly, Clinton, who "dominated" the nearly two-hour strategy session, mobilized his faithful followers to 1) Compile a list of his achievements for supporters to keep "handy"; 2) Build a staff to coordinate the appearances of "Clinton surrogates" on TV talk shows; and 3) Plan to "raise Mr. Clinton's profile on the lecture circuit."
Before he gets started, Clinton might want to put the brain trust to work rebutting those pesky news stories coming out that document his personal inattention to terrorism while in office. Just last week, for example, former Clinton aide Dick Morris added to the pile with a revealing column in JWR about the "weekly strategy sessions at the White House throughout 1995 and 1996" at which the president was advised "to crack down on terrorism." Mr. Clinton "failed to act," Mr. Morris writes, "always finding a reason why some other concern was more important."
Reading the Times story, you get the feeling that Clinton is going to adopt a sort of better-late-than-never strategy on terrorism -- and that in his mind it's not even too late.
That is, the former president doesn't seem to realize he's no longer in office. At this "campaign" meeting, Clinton expressed his concern "that Democratic leaders had not sufficiently spoken up for his administration," the newspaper reported. "Participants said that while some nice things were said about the Democratic leaders in Congress, Sen. Tom Daschle and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, there was a view that they would do only so much to press the Clinton agenda."
The Clinton agenda -- what Clinton agenda? Last time anyone checked the Oval Office, George W. Bush was behind the desk. Even so, as one participant told The New York Times, "The view was that House and Senate Democrats were too preoccupied with their own re-elections and their own deals."
This is truly bizarre. Naturally, the House and Senate Democrats are "too preoccupied" with their own "deals" to continue pressing the "Clinton agenda": The Clinton administration is over. Or is it? Clinton went on to express his desire to "play a central role in setting an issue agenda" for the Democratic Party, including its congressional and presidential candidates. (No reply as yet from Messrs. Gephardt and Daschle.)
My, what Napoleonic complexities are contained within this here "post-presidency." Little wonder some participants declined to discuss the meeting publicly. Others even acknowledged the possibility that Clinton could "be portrayed as preoccupied with his reputation and not conducting himself appropriately for a former president."
Now why would anyone do a thing like
JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.