I am less impressed by Bill Clinton’s post-presidential phase. Seeking to emulate the admirable efforts of Jimmy Carter, Clinton has established a foundation. He now jets about the world making appearances on its behalf. But in his own style. He has blatantly departed from Carter’s characteristically modest demeanor. His visits are always high profile, accompanied by cameras and exuberant displays of his importance. He relishes the “love” he receives from addressing audiences of hundreds of thousands. He engages in sloppy bonhomie with one African dictator after another, seemingly oblivious to the fact that a considerable portion of the largesse he is distributing will end up in Swiss bank accounts.
Such “neediness” is often ascribed to an outsized ego. In fact, the behavior attests the opposite. Bill Clinton is so insecure that he needs constant injections of approval. There is something almost pathological about this hunger for validation.
Clinton boasts about saving lives. Yet it will be a long time if ever to the day when he can atone for the fact that he failed to intervene in the Rwanda genocide. Today, other high-profile figures, most recently the actor George Clooney, have been to Darfur. To the best of my knowledge Clinton has not.
From humble beginnings, Bill Clinton has ascended to a position where he associates only with the rich and powerful. If present at all, the common people appear only as extras in his occasional appearances before cheering crowds. (To my mind, these events have a little of the flavor of Nuremberg—but maybe I am just an old fogy.)
Clinton’s change of company from “ordinary folks” to elite movers and shakers is a kind of parable of the fate of the Democratic Party. It has lost touch with its populist roots. There is no mystery as to why working people in Kansas and other red states have left the Democratic Party. The party deserted them.
Nor does Clinton's fancy company assure a better knowledge of the world. Instead it leads to groupthink. With access (presumably) to sources of information not available to ordinary folks, both Clintons were supporters of the disastrous Iraq war. They still are. Of course Hillary, making political calculations about the erosion of her base, has attempted to spin her record. She now claims that when she voted with the majority in the Senate to authorize the war she was merely seeking to give Bush a negotiating device. Fiddlesticks. She knew perfectly well that Bush and his cronies would use the vote to take us into war. Does no one remember the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution? During the course of the Iraq war she has been an enthusiastic hawk. Her chief complaint has been that Bush did not prosecute it more vigorously. As far as I can see, her husband has not offered any balance on this matter.
Why should we continue to believe in individuals whose judgment has been proved wrong on the major issue of our day? It has been shown that the second-string Knight-Ridder newspapers had a better understanding of the false information used to drum up support for the war than did the elite New York Times and The New Republic. And of course ordinary people like me, sitting in our humble living rooms could see that the case for the war was fabricated.
The September 18 New Yorker contains an almost interminable piece of Clinton cheerleading entitled “The Wanderer.” The author of the article is David Remnick, the boy wonder who now runs The New Yorker. He makes no bones of his admiration for everything that Bill does, while looking forward to a Hillary Clinton presidency. What are the chances of that eventuality now? With each passing day her tortured efforts to extricate herself from complicity in the Iraq war are making her election to the presidency less likely. Of course she won renomination in the New York State primary, but the issue will not go away.
By the way, there is a typo elsewhere in The New Yorker. In a review of Günter Grass’s new memoir (made from the German original, since the translation has not appeared), Ian Buruma is made to write the book’s title as “Beim Haüten der Zwiebel.” The dieresis is on the wrong vowel. (Maybe the typesetter had been listening to the Blue Öyster Cult.)
In a magazine that was formerly immaculate in terms of fact-checking, such gaffes now occur in virtually every issue. A few weeks back were treated to “Genghis Kahn” (the noted financier, I presume).