Jewish World Review June 21, 2004/ 2 Tamuz, 5764
Clinton still has 'heat' but it's the Democrats who are getting burnt
There was a photograph in The New York Post a few weeks ago of Bill Clinton and some other fellow entering a room. Seven-eighths of the picture was Clinton with a big broad smile and his arms outstretched, like a cheesy Vegas lounge act acknowledging the applause of the crowd before launching into his opening number ("I Get a Kick Out of Me"). The gaunt, cadaverous fellow wedged into the left-hand sliver of the photograph proved on closer inspection to be Senator John Kerry, looking like a gloomy, aged retainer trying to remind the big guy that he's running late. In this case, four years late.
If I were a Democrat, that picture would have been more depressing than one of the oxymoronic "Kerry rallies". Clinton in the formulation adopted by various aggrieved campaign advisers and political observers, "sucks all the oxygen" out of the Senator's campaign. "His glamour is undersung," panted Tina Brown - about Clinton, not Kerry - after wangling an invite to the White House. "A man in a dinner jacket with more heat than any star in the room. He is vividly in the present tense and dares you to join him there."
The problem for Kerry is that the Clinton presidency is now half a decade in the past, but the guy is still vividly in the present tense, daring Tina and Co to join him there. And if it is a choice between Bill's heat-exuding tuxedo or John Kerry, it's no contest. This month alone, Bill Clinton is promoting his doorstopper autobiography (My Lie - whoops, My Life), plus promoting a movie about himself (The Hunting of the President), as well as promoting his new album of celebrity duets with Celine Dion, Robbie Williams and many more, and promoting his new range of Clintagra male performance products which enable middle-aged men to maintain erection for two full terms.
Okay, those last two aren't due until the autumn. But he did release a CD of a new, more sensitive version of Peter and the Wolf in which, instead of capturing the wolf and leading him away never to be heard of again, Peter realises the error of his lupophobia and releases the wolf back into the wild. That's more or less what has happened to Clinton: instead of being confined to the obscurity of retirement, the wolf is back in the wild.
CBS' Sixty Minutes ran its in-depth one-hour interview with the former president, in which he reveals that he regards his impeachment as a "badge of honour". "I don't see it as a stain," he says, "it" being the impeachment, not the DNA evidence. "I stood up to it and beat it back."
Clinton and the veteran news anchor Dan Rather hugged each other on camera.
Mr Clinton also expands on the details of his belated confession to Hillary. In Mrs Clinton's version (from last year's unreadable doorstopper autobiography), she says she could "hardly breathe" and was "gulping for air", which sounds more like Monica's problem. Now Bill tells us that she made him sleep on the couch. I assumed he was speaking metaphorically, but apparently not: he claims he was banished to an actual couch in a living room next to their bedroom, for two months.
Is that really true? In that summer of 1998, when he was lobbing cruise missiles at abandoned Osama training camps in Afghanistan, the President was doing so on the basis of a couple of hours' tossing on the couch? If you say so. Today, of course, the Clintons are back sleeping together, even if only at the Reagan funeral, where the camera caught them blearily slumped in the pew with eyes closed during the big eulogies.
A year after impeachment, as I wrote at the time, a Hillary adviser confirmed to Talk magazine that their physical passion had been rekindled and that Air Force One was now back in the hangar. A year later, they moved to separate states. Who knows what the truth is?
The point is, Bill Clinton never reaches, as independent counsel and Clinton nemesis Ken Starr would say, completion. As concerned Kerry consultants put it, he "sucks up all the available oxygen". Last week, at the launch of The Hunting of the President, the new documentary about the heroically-embattled Bill, he strolled out on stage after the movie and talked for so long that Gene Lyons, one of the co-authors of the book on which it was based, announced that the panel discussion with the film creators would have to be cancelled. In The "I'm The President!" Show Starring Bill Clinton, there's only one speaking part, and everyone else is bit players and extras.
This would be bad news for Kerry, except that he's such a terrible candidate people like him more the less they see of him. He took a week off as a mark of respect for the late President Reagan and his numbers inched up. If he had taken another week off as a mark of respect for the late Ray Charles, he could have opened up a clear lead. If he took the summer off as a mark of respect for the late Sir Peter Ustinov and the late Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, he would be heading for a landslide. So Clinton sucking up Kerry's oxygen is the best news there is for the Senator.
After September 11, I said that Bill Clinton suddenly seemed "so September 10th". These past few days, we've been told that he's the Dems' Reagan - a sunny, charismatic optimist who could sell the American people anything. But he chose not to sell them anything but himself.
Why, you wonder, would they want to go through one more summer season of Monica and Paula and all the rest? Because, so his defenders have convinced themselves, it makes them look good: unlike the Bush administration with the scandal of Abu Ghraib and torture, in the Clinton administration the biggest scandal was about oral sex. Say what you like, but, in the Clinton era, the only naked guy with women's panties on his head and a dog leash round his neck would have been the President breaking in the new intern pool.
This comparison is valid in the narrow sense that Bill Clinton, like Abu Ghraib, has been blown out of all proportion. But Clinton is what you wind up with when you have Reagan's communication skills but nothing to communicate: you're left with pure celebrity -- Tina Brown's "heat" -- and celebrity depends on living presence. You can't go away, because the heat fades instantly.
The Clintons' Democratic Party was great for the Clintons but disastrous for the Democratic Party: during the 1990s, they lost the House and the Senate and a ton of governorships and state legislatures, and eventually, with nothing else left to lose, they lost the presidency. Clinton's heat left the party so parched for talent they had no successful governors to run for president and were forced to turn to a stiff hack weathervane senator in the hope they could so damage Bush they could drag their boy across the finishing line.
If you think a great political party should be a star vehicle for a guy who won't get off the stage, fine. But, if you don't, then it is time, as Bill Clinton used to say, to move on. Monica's no longer on her knees. There's no reason why anyone else should be.
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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Mark Steyn