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Jewish World Review
July 9, 2007
/ 23 Tamuz, 5767
Those Were the Days: Will nostalgia sweep the Clintons back into the White House?
John H. Fund
ASPEN, Colo. There's no doubt who was the star at this year's Aspen Institute Ideas Festival. Bill Clinton strode onto the stage of a huge music tent Saturday and received a standing ovation from thousands of well-heeled, overwhelmingly liberal festival attendees. The Clinton magic clearly still works for many people. The question is whether it can rub off on the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, the mention of whose name elicited a much more muted response from the crowd.
Mr. Clinton, who sported a large "Hillary 2008" label pin, made it clear that he has "switched positions" with his wife. "I'm doing the kind of things Hillary did for 20 years" he said, and claimed he was happy to attend to board meetings of his foundation while he was in Aspen, where his wife was holding campaign fund-raisers. "I hope she wins," he said. "I think it'll be good for the country."
When onstage interviewer Rick Stengel, editor of Time magazine, asked Mr. Clinton what he wanted to be called if he became the first husband of a president, he replied, "My Scottish friends suggested 'First Laddy,' " which would "be easiest to relate" to his predecessor. (Laura Bush is famous for having brought her Scottish terrier, Barney, to the White House.)
The thrust of Mr. Clinton's remarks was that the world was doing a good job of building a global economy, but falling short on the infrastructure for a "global society." He said he strongly preferred the term "interdependence" to "globalization" because the former term better describes a world linked through culture, cooperation and the sharing of information. "Interdependence means divorce is not an option; it means we can't get away from each other," he said to audience laughter.
Introduced as "a one-man NGO," Mr. Clinton made a spirited call for the American people to support nongovernmental organizations both at home and abroad. "We have a rich tradition of public service that doesn't involve government in this country," Mr. Clinton said, recalling that Benjamin Franklin established America's first volunteer fire department, in Philadelphia, 40 years before the American Revolution. Americans remain among the world's most generous people, with 30% of all U.S. households donating to Hurricane Katrina relief, half of them pledging support over the Internet.
Mr. Clinton noted the explosive growth of humanitarian and civic organizations since 1993, when he became president. The number of NGOs has doubled, from 500,000 to one million in the U.S. In Russia the count has grown from zero to 400,000. In China there are more than 250,000 such groups registered with the government and likely two or three times as many that haven't registered. India has half a million NGOs.
Despite Mr. Clinton's opposition to many of President Bush's policies, he went out of his way to praise the White House's efforts in fighting AIDS and malaria in Africa and singled out Mr. Bush for having the courage to challenge American farmers by trying to scrap laws mandating that U.S. food aid must be grown in the U.S. and three-quarters of it must be shipped on U.S.-flagged ships.
But Mr. Clinton's serenity was upset by journalist Elizabeth Drew, who asked him about the 9/11 Commission's conclusion he could have pursued Osama bin Laden more vigorously. The flare-up was reminiscent of Mr. Clinton's blow-up last year during an interview with Chris Wallace of "Fox News Sunday." The former president accused Mr. Wallace of doing a "hit job."
"Congratulations on speaking the talking points of the Republican National Committee," Mr. Clinton snapped at Ms. Drew. "Let's just go through the facts." Mr. Clinton emphasized as he asserted that "I did not turn down one request for use of force" against bin Laden. "Did I fail to get him? Yes. Did I try? Yes."
Moving on to Iraq, Mr. Clinton said he did not put it in the category of countries that were "dangerous" to America today. "It's a tragedy, with uncertain consequences" if the U.S. fails in its mission there. He noted that 250,000 people died in civil wars in Bosnia in the 1990s, even though that area had only a fourth the population of Iraq. Nonetheless, Mr. Clinton said he thought the U.S. had "no choice but to withdraw some troops this year" from Iraq, though he remained vague on what should be done after that.
There is clearly a great deal of Clinton nostalgia in the country, and the audience clearly agreed with Aspen Institute president Walter Isaacson's assertion that Mr. Clinton had presided over a time of prosperity when "American power and prestige was used only for good in the world," The implication was that U.S. troops and influence are being used for ill today.
But several people in the audience noted that there were still some shadows over the Clinton legacy. One leading liberal philanthropist told me he just couldn't imagine installing Hillary Clinton in the White House, given that it would mean the country would have alternated two dynastic families, the Bushes and the Clintons, in the White House for over 24 years or more.
"Did you notice the laughter the audience had when Clinton said he did a lot of his serious reading in bed, 'among other things'?" a Clinton administration veteran noted. "It was an innocent remark but some people couldn't help taking it a certain way." Indeed, it doesn't take long to recall that the eight years of the Clintons in power represented a roller coaster ride of scandals and surprises that voters may prefer not to repeat.
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JWR contributor John H. Fund is author, most recently, of "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)
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© 2006, John H. Fund
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