11/3/2000 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
Expect the next Bill Clinton interview to read like this:
Q: What possessed you to pose for the cover of Esquire with your knees spread in front of a photographer shooting below knee level?
A: One thing you have to understand is how much I've grown in the presidency. The impeachment episode helped me develop a stronger sense of humility. I thought that if a photographer took a shot of me from the knees up, that it would have sort of a supplicant effect, even if I wasn't kneeling, and even if my legs were spread and I had an aw-shucks smile on my face. I had no idea that the cover would be released before the election. I can be naive in dealing with slick media types.
Q: Do you understand that the Monica Lewinsky episode affected American families in painful ways?
A: I think the whole experience made me a better person because I had to take responsibility for a definition of sex that was designed to absolve me of responsibility for sex. You have no idea how much pain I feel about that, and I've apologized for that, but if the right wing hadn't put me in a position where I had to cover up my own actions, I never would have had to start redefining sex. And notice that the right wing and Newt Gingrich and Clarence Thomas still haven't apologized. Not that I'm angry. I refuse to be angry. I am not angry at those mean-spirited gnats who demonized me. I forgive them. If you ask for forgiveness, you have to forgive, and I do forgive, even though they haven't even apologized to the American people, or more important, to me.
If I can be a better person for the experience, American families can be better because of what I did. I know a lot of men who loved my definition of sex. They know forgiveness is a cleansing thing. Nelson Mandela taught me that.
Q: What was really going through your mind when you delivered the State of the Union address in 1999?
A: I thought, if I just hold up my head and look presidential, I can beat those right-wingers. The American people dislike them more than they dislike me. And if I could just keep the public focused on the fact that those right-wing zealots were partisan, (and not recognize how my actions might have precipitated events), then I could bluff my way through it. Hillary helped. I had to keep my anger and self- pity in check. You know, you can't give in to the negative viewpoint other people have of you, even if it's true, because if you permit yourself to see that it's true, they beat you. That's the only way you can beat their kind of vitriolic politics.
Besides, I think the American people agree that I shouldn't be punished, because I admitted I was wrong, without admitting to exactly what I did wrong, because that would be really wrong. Q: What are the greatest accomplishments of your administration? A: I gave this country the greatest economy this country has ever seen. I passed NAFTA, which was controversial, even though most Republicans favored it. I was willing to take the heat for that vote. And you know, you can get a lot of things done, even things you never wanted to get done, like welfare reform and budget deficit reduction, just as long as you're willing to grab the credit.
Q: Do you agree with people who say you squandered precious political capital in fighting Ken Starr and impeachment? A: What is power for if not to help you get away with things? It would be squandering political capital if I told the truth and let the chips fall where they may. Tell the truth and take responsibility, and the mean-spirited right-wingers beat you.
Q: Your advice to the next president?
A: Just keep telling the American people that you're working your heart and soul out for them every day. Don't let your own rhetoric keep you from working your heart out every day to raise millions of soft money dollars from special interests. That's what power is for. I'd tell anyone who wants to run for the presidency that you have to really care about something, and that something is raw power. The American people respect a man who knows how to use power. Do wrong, and they'll say all powerful guys do the same thing. They'll cut you slack that they wouldn't cut some poor working stiff ... especially if you're a Democrat, who says he's going to stand up for working stiffs who play by the rules.
That's what I did. I really feel good about myself. You know, I've really grown in office, and I shouldn't have to hide it.