This being National Bill Clinton Awareness Week, I have some questions for the former president. I would like to know more about the "sofa" he says he slept on after informing his wife, the future junior senator from New York, that Monica Lewinsky was not a figment of the imagination of the vast right-wing conspiracy. Is it still in the White House? Shouldn't this historic piece of furniture go to the Clinton Legacy Wing of the Smithsonian Institution?
After all, that sofa is posterity's direct link to what Bill Clinton singularly calls "the worst day" of his administration. Worse than the day of Mogadishu, or impeachment, or any Al Qaeda attack that occurred on his watch, that "worst" day must have been pretty bad. At least for him. For the rest of us, this revelation recalls the essence of the Clinton presidency: the narcissism of it all. It was all about him, and it still is.
Clinton can laugh about it now -- and he does, which is extremely weird to behold. And he insists, as he did to the BBC's Jonathan Dimbleby during his spout-blowing interview, that none of the scandal-related turmoil had any impact on his presidential duties, including his recent, hindsighted campaign against Al Qaeda. And if you believe that, I think I can find a sofa to sell you.
Clinton credits his ability to live "parallel lives" with his success in eliminating Osama bin Laden -- sorry, I mean his success, period. And then he adds this: "Frankly -- perhaps I shouldn't acknowledge this -- but it was a relief to have to have to go to work and concentrate on something else. Otherwise, I would have nothing to think about all day long but what a bad fella I'd been." Shucks, maybe it was a good thing Osama bin Laden and the attack on the USS Cole came along to help the poor guy through some tough times.
Such as that "worst day." Most people would find a measure of relief in coming clean. But "clean" complicated things for Bill Clinton. Besides the betrayal of his wife and daughter, there were all those cabinet secretaries, for instance, who publicly lied at Clinton's behest. Remember that 1998 day when a slew of cabinet officers, led by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, stood in the rain outside the White House to vouch for Bill Clinton's honesty? In lieu of the honorable exit (resignation), Siberia-on-the-sofa becomes an increasingly apt metaphor for the Clinton years.
But there's more to the Clinton legacy than a couch. Toughing it out for all the wrong reasons -- because, as Clinton now explains his gross behavior, "he could" -- is the Clinton endowment to American politics. The distinction between "could" and "should" has been obscured, if not almost lost.