Talk about deja vu all over again. There was something awfully familiar about Bill Clinton's hissy fit on Fox News last Sunday. What was it, exactly?
The finger-pointing? The raised voice? The way he kept interrupting his interviewer? The mounting furor that threatened to reach red-in-the-face levels despite the pancake makeup? The attribution of base motives to a reporter who'd dared question him about something he'd done? Or, in this case, what he hadn't done to prevent a terrorist attack on this country.
It was an operatic performance. All the Sturm und Drang was there, if not the art. But what impressed most was the practiced quality of the "spontaneous" explosion. It sounded about as impromptu as one of the Three Tenors' great arias. Maybe Pavarotti's "Fuor del Mar" from "Idomeneo."
Full of emotion but never really out of control.
The only problem was that Fox's Chris Wallace, who was supposed to play the foil, didn't. The question that set off Bill Clinton was direct, but it was civil, even sympathetic at the end: "I understand that hindsight is 20/20 . . . ."
That's when all Clinton broke loose, beginning with an assault on his interviewer's integrity. It turns out that Chris Wallace, too, despite his Clark Kent manner, is just another tool of that infamous Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. "So you did Fox's bidding on this show," he told Chris Wallace.
"You did your nice little conservative hit job on me . . . ."
And that was just the beginning. ("Tell the truth, Chris . . . . (Your question) set me off on a tear because you didn't formulate it in an honest way and because you people ask me questions you don't ask the other side . . . . All I'm saying is, you falsely accused me of giving aid and comfort to bin Laden because of what happened in Somalia . . . . And you've got that little smirk on your face and you think you're so clever . . . . I always get these clever little political (deals) where they ask me one-sided questions . . . . There's been a serious disinformation campaign . . . " and so heatedly on.)
Goodness. How strange. And the strangest thing was that it was Chris Wallace who remained the picture of presidential dignity while the former president sounded like the worst kind of heckler at a presidential press conference.
The interviewee's temper tantrum wasn't just embarrassing, it was a little worrisome. Can this sort of thing be good for a cardiac patient? Not to worry. This was less a real meltdown than another of Bill Clinton's star turns.
As for the historical dispute, the facts according to the Book of Clinton naturally enough don't jibe with the administration's. And after simmering for a while, the current secretary of state and defensive linewoman, Condi Rice, struck back in much the same tone. ("Rice Boils Over at Bubba/Rips 'Flatly False'/Claim . . . New York Post, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2006.)
Gosh, with the Clinton people blaming the Bush people for 9/11, and the Bush people blaming the Clinton people, do you think the terrorists might have had anything at all to do with it?
In the end, the only thing clear about this battle of fact versus counter-fact is that there's quite enough blame to go around. What sticks in the mind isn't all the history-in-hindsight but the huffy-puffy tone of this whole debate and micturition match. It's not exactly Wendell Wilkie discussing FDR's foreign policy during another war. The phrase Loyal Opposition had more basis then.
The approach of midterm elections seems to bring out the Bill Clinton I remember from his Arkansas period, when he tended to enjoy a testy exchange now and then at the Governor's Mansion. On one such occasion, all I'd done to set him off was to make a mild suggestion, and Gentle Reader will know what a meek, non-controversial fellow I am, a regular Chris Wallace.
I'd suggested that, by appointing his own quasi-judicial, yellow-dog Democrat commission to investigate the business affairs of his Republican rival Sheffield Nelson, Gov. Clinton had committed an abuse of power comparable to those of the Faubus Years. Whereupon he flew into one of his rages. Imagine that.
What I remember most about that little blowup so long ago was how programmed his fury seemed. His taking after Chris Wallace brought it all back. There didn't seem any authentic anger, any moral force, behind his words that long-ago day, just petty irritation expressed at high volume.
Ditto his interview Sunday on Fox News. He was making the same mistake the country's current president makes from time to time substituting bluster for reason.
But there are few things more amusing in these dolorous days than Bill Clinton demanding that the truth be told! It's hard to take him seriously when he gets all righteous on us. No character, no real choler.
This, too, will pass. When the grand show/press conference at the Governor's Mansion was over that long-ago day, Gov. Clinton made a point of shaking my hand on the way out and even soliciting my political advice, as worthless then as it is now. But the guy never misses a chance to work the crowd.