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Jewish World Review Nov. 3, 2000 / 4 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Tony Snow

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Clinton learns that in Washington, you can't take friendship personally -- BILL CLINTON hit the hustings in the final days of his final campaign, only to discover the magic was gone. Crowds didn't mob him as before. Reporters didn't cover him as before. When he spoke, the earth didn't quiver and quake -- but Al Gore did.

Clinton is on the verge of discovering something well known to capital veterans: In Washington, you can't take friendship personally. The profession of politics worships offices and powers, not actual men. So as the trappings of the presidency begin to slough off like snakeskin, what people increasingly will see is the man -- and in the case of Bill Clinton, the least impressive thing about him is himself.

Even if we didn't need a reminder, the president provided one last week. In an interview slated to appear in an upcoming issue of Esquire, he whined that Republicans owed him an apology for impeachment.

Let's get this right: The man dropped his pants in the Oval Office. He pleasured himself at a sink. He multitasked with Monica while discussing troop movements in Bosnia with Rep. Sonny Montgomery.

When word leaked out, he lied to a) his wife, b) his daughter, c) his friends, d) his Cabinet, e) the American public, f) a court of law and g) anyone not mentioned above. He tried to intimidate witnesses. His office planted vicious news stories about that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. And when he survived, he claimed he did what he did because he wanted to save the Constitution of the United States!

It is hard to take seriously a man who ruts in the Oval Office, let alone revises history to describe his swiving as the democratic version of Horatius at the bridge. But that is what we get with William Jefferson Blythe Clinton. We have a fellow who is part hick, part scholar; a guy with Astroturf in the bed of his El Camino and a Rhodes Scholarship on his resume; a poor li'l ol' country boy and the master of his many demesnes. In short, we have a man of jagged and staggering contradictions: Huckleberry Gandhi.

Al Gore would be leading the presidential race by a dozen points if his boss even once had uttered the two magic words: I'm sorry. But he didn't. He found it unnecessary. After all, he whupped the Republicans, didn't he?

Aw shucks, Bubba

And that's the story of this campaign. For eight years, Bill Clinton aimed too low. He entered office with the intention of hogging the spotlight and cheating the gendarmes, and he did both. In so doing, he has cheated the hangman -- but not the historian.

Even though it is never wise to render snap judgments, it seems safe to predict that Bill Clinton will be recalled as a Nobody for the Ages -- a man whose narcissism devoured his talents.

He may be the most gifted man ever to sit in the White House, and the most brazenly corrupt. One can imagine him on the mountaintop with Satan, hearing the offer -- the world for your soul -- and asking: "C'mon, man! There's a catch, right?"

Clinton never tried to rally Americans behind a great cause; he never took the kind of risk that separates great presidents from the others. He didn't have to. Times were good.

And so his presidency, like "Seinfeld," was an entertainment about nothing. It had no topic, no theme, no purpose -- other than to dispel our boredom. The whole show was about him. It feasted on our goodwill and our trusting natures. He twisted language shamelessly. He described federal expenditures as "investments" and tax cuts as "spending."

He made fools of just about everyone who fell under his spell -- including presumptive peace partners Tony Blair and Ehud Barak. He was uncowed by failure. Indeed -- and here's a real Clinton touch -- he had aides contact Norwegian public-relations firms in hopes of advancing his candidacy for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Bill Clinton became a lead weight to Al Gore because he was more concerned about posing for a legacy than doing his job. As Gore clawed at the water, trying to break the surface, Clinton was sitting in a gynecological pose for Esquire, grinning like a randy pappy. And every time he appeared in public, he reminded us of what might have been -- and wasn't.

If you want to appreciate the depth of the vice president's Clinton problem, ask yourself a simple question. Suppose someone built a Clinton Monument (don't speculate about what appearance it might assume). What inscription would it bear?

How about: "He avoided jail. Somehow."

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate