Saturday, September 16, 2006

Clinton rampant

After five and a half years of arrogance, dissembling, and incompetence in the Bush White House, the domestic policies of the Clinton administration are looking better and better. Even conservatives-—especially conservatives--should acknowledge that it was Clinton who maintained policies of fiscal responsibility and kept the rate of government expansion down. And there was welfare reform. While there has recently been a certain amount of grousing among die-hard “progressives,” reasonable observers accept that the reform has worked.

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).


Blogger Bruce said...

I don't mean to nit pick, but an umlaut is not a dieresis. In fact, it is the opposite of a dieresis. The dieresis separates the vowel from its phonetic environment, while, in this case (äu), the umlaut signifies that the "a" is closed to an "e" and pronounced together with the "u," giving a sound generally signiofied by the English "oi."

12:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill's neediness, I suggest, is what made him not only a tolerable president, but another fallen and needy soul we could identify with. Does anyone identify with GWB or Hilary? Reagan had grandfather aspects and that "ah shucks" spirit that made him marginally feel familial, even if like Ronnie, Jr., we knew he was a distant oafh.

Bill's notorious picadillos were well-known before he was elected, and as a tragic figure of human want (and a wife's frigidity), who would not have wanted to comfort him in his hour of need? His libido, unfortunately, and his neediness, fortunately, cavorted off the Oval Office. We did not approve, but we understood. Impeachable? Please!

The Rawanda lapse is inexcusable, but his party is averse to all intervention. Even the Kosovo humanitarian intervention was foul to his own party, and ultimately supported only by Republicans.

Bill, like Oedipus, is entirely too human, which I suspect is why we appreciate him more now than when he was in office (not that he suffered politically for his indiscretions). With the Automaton Reincarnation of Napolean as our Leader, having something warm to suck up to is immensely appealing. Like any politician, he plays a crowd, but that is his special charism, he knows, and we know, we're all being played. At least we know and understand the rules of the game, and sometimes it feels nice to surrender to someone as weak as we are.

Sadly, though, Bill has not made an important difference as elder statesman. Oh, he has the above-average intelligence and wit to carry him through the boardrooms and press rooms, but he's deliberately deferring to his wife for standing by him. Why is anyone's guess. Everything she touched, including him, she's screwed up. And she has no chance in hell of becoming president, whereas he could be elected easily to a third term. She's the chamelion we've all come to distrust rightly, the Planner who has no principles, except being on top. Like all egocentrics, her self-interest long defeated her ambitions, only she's too self-absorbed to notice. In light of GWB, she'd be just another narcissist playing to show her balls, when it's merely contempt.

Bill still speaks with intelligence, even if he speaks with temperance. And he remains what could have been one of the greatest presidents in history, but like all tragic fellows, he will fade into fond, if distemperate, memory. The second president to be impeached, beloved by all, and noteworthy of nought.

5:43 PM  

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