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Jewish World Review June 17, 2004 / 28 Sivan, 5764

James Lileks

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Behold the Summer of Bill Clinton! | Of course George W. Bush said nice things to Bill Clinton. It was a nice, happy event for the 42nd president, welcoming him and his portrait to the people's house. What did people expect Bush to say?

"Look at him — a red-nosed satyr, a godless fleshy sack of appetites and vanities, his very blood clotted with the money he so assiduously condemned while seeking the votes of his peers. And now he comes again to the building he turned into a brothel, to bask in our regard! Perhaps it is too much to point out that this painting, being of two dimensions, has one more than the man it depicts? Fie, I say! Fie!"

That would be graceless. That would be un-Christian. That would be wrong.

No, Bush gave a nice speech, warmly received, full of charm. Sure, some wanted him to leap over the podium and plant a stake in Clinton's heart — or, at the very least, to hose him down with holy water until he ran shrieking from the building. But that's so 2000.

Clinton hatred has burned out on the right. It didn't get them anywhere. They looked at his high poll numbers like Hollywood executives reading the grosses for Mel Gibson's "The Passion." Whoa! Misjudged the appeal of that one. The main emotion the man now evokes is irritation, followed by bemusement.

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And now, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan: Here he comes again. Behold the Summer of Clinton. There will the convention speech, the Return of the Man from Hope, his long velvet shadow draped over the pale frowning figure of the nominee, John What's-His-Name. But first we have the long-awaited book, "My Life." First we have the publicity tour — and that will be revealing. But only for the questions no one asks.

Most reporters will gently toss him beach balls. Expect a lovefest. He's still charming, he had the right enemies, and, well, he didn't have an affair with our daughter.

We will hear a lot about impeachment, but little of the murky dealings that led to the articles. Expect the Pilgrim-hatted specter of Ken Starr to be dragged out again. Expect the most breathless portion of the interview to detail the moment when Bill broke the bad news to Hillary about Monica. Close-up. He bites his lip. The voice goes low and fills with regret. Or perhaps gravel. "It was the hardest thing I ever had to do," he'll say, or something like it.

"Really?" the tough interviewer will say. "Harder than sending American troops into harm's way in the Balkans?"

Of course, no such moment will happen. It would be unseemly. It might also remind people that the United States entered that conflict without even the pretense of a United Nations vote — but that's not something most interviewers remember, or care about. What matters is burnishing the legacy.

Which is what? Well, in the end, Clinton may be remembered for what he didn't do. He didn't win in Somalia. He didn't nationalize the health care system, and after one crack he wisely gave up and moved on. He didn't fight welfare reform. He didn't get Osama bin Laden. He didn't get thrown out of office. He didn't defeat Saddam Hussein. He didn't get in Alan Greenspan's way. He didn't save Social Security and he didn't wreck it. He was perhaps the perfect president for a time in which we didn't want to do much but make money and pretend history was over.

Even now, Clinton gets a pass for Sept. 11. We've censured and moved on, as some said during impeachment. Now we know what the threat looks like; now we're at war. If another attack happened during his book tour, no one would dare ask if he felt any responsibility.

But some idiot would probably ask if the planned bombing of a Columbus, Ohio, shopping mall was a response to Abu Ghraib. The politician in Clinton would want to say "no, but." The statesman would simply say no. The American in him might remember the good words Bush said the other day, and assert the need for national unity.

Which one of these characteristics will eventually be his legacy? We'll find out eventually. He could live as long as Reagan — which gives him 35 more years in politics.

If Republicans are sick of him by summer's end, they really need to learn how to pace themselves.

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JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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06/03/04: Tales at the intersection of war and popular culture
05/20/04: Athletes on Notice: Strive Unflaggingly
05/13/04: America likes Rumsfeld, and the Dems can't take it
05/07/04: Kerry Supporters Have a New Take on Vietnam War
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04/29/04: John Kerry, prisoner of symbolic politics
04/22/04: Shall we grovel? Kerry Plan to Restore America's Place in the World
04/08/04: Sept. 11 Might Have Been Different If ...
04/02/04: Slinging slime or citing facts?
03/26/04: One War, One Enemy
03/22/04: Bloodied Spain Rejoins Old Europe
03/12/04: Why All Those Foreign Leaders Want Kerry to Whup Bush
03/08/04: Introducing the Kerry Doctrine
02/27/04: Introducing the AWOLs: Angry White Outraged Libs
02/20/04: Sifting the headlines of election year 1992
02/18/04: Guess Which Candidate Our Enemies Want to Lose in 2004?
01/29/04: Every Laptop a Truth Squad
01/27/04: When the battle over artistic freedom goes over the edge
12/31/03: For the Left and Right, Some New Year's Resolutions
12/22/03: Dean's black helicopters
12/15/03: Dems Are Mainstreaming the Extreme
12/08/03: Does Dean Really Want to Be President? One Wonders, When He Opens His Mouth
11/24/03: The real story: Most Brits see U.S. as force for good
11/19/03: The Trouble With Al Gore's Screed on Civil Liberties
11/11/03: Can a fellow win with the Confederate Metrosexual vote?
10/22/03: Let's make Greenpeace pay
09/29/03: Ah-nold & Clark may be on different sides of the aisles, but their supporters are cut from the same cloth
09/19/03: All Hail the Ninth Circuit Court of Surreal
08/26/03: This time, the record industry doesn't stand a chance!
08/18/03: Assessing the Schwarzenegger Factor in Republicanism
08/08/03: No wonder Howard ‘Two Covers’ Dean gets all the buzz
08/04/03: Expect bad news for the foreseeable future
07/28/03: Despot's Deserts
07/21/03: No winners in this game of gotcha
07/14/03: Doing the right thing in Liberia may not be the right thing to do
06/27/03: On feet in Democratic mouths
06/16/03: The real story behind Hillary's book
06/09/03:America's new mission was and remains: Extirpating the flaming nutballs and the societies that nurture them
06/03/03: The Constitution as gag order
05/23/03: Sometimes the theme of world events is chaos itself
05/16/03: Newspapers are only human, after all
05/13/03: What McCarthy messed up
05/06/03: Still think the International Criminal Court was a good idea?
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03/14/03: Kerry and the Dems are banking on American electorate's tendancy to forget history
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02/13/03: We live in an age where the poet has been cast out from the halls of power --- sob, sob
02/10/03: Found: League for International Justice and Peace talking points
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01/23/03: People who'd volunteer for the Iraqi army if they saw Saddam wearing a "Free Mumia" button
01/16/03: One of those head vs. heart things
12/27/02: Whistleblowers?
01/06/02: The second year of this jangled millennium
11/16/01: Attack of the 'Patriotism police' and other Hollywood fare
11/12/01: From the bleats of dismay
10/30/01: Osama and the Genie
10/08/01: "We can stop the Bush Death Juggernaut"
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09/25/01: Do the Europeans actually think that the war on murderous zealotry will be furthered by undercutting America?
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08/14/01: Dubyah's embarrassing presidential vacation
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07/25/01: The real reason why we need missile defense (What those uppity policy wonks won't tell you!)
06/18/01: Paining the egalitarian soul
06/01/01: One of the stranger indexes you'll ever hear about
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05/08/01: Republicans want poisoned water
04/23/01: We bleat as we're sheared
04/10/01: Boys will be boys. And that's the problem
04/06/01: Pity the anti-American Left, they're gonna have a hard time on this one
03/26/01: You've been warned
03/16/01: The GOP's inexplicable desire to fold
02/23/01: Will the Jeb Bush administration attack Saddam in 2011?
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02/06/01: Can you say 'Ayatollah Bush'?
01/24/01: The new Executive Orders
01/22/01: Hey, Dubya: Wanna save Ashcroft? Teach him to rap!
01/09/01: Bubba gets his last licks
01/05/01: The low-down on the coming recession (What those snooty economists won't tell you)
12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2003, James Lileks