Kathleen Parker

Did you just see what I just saw? That old comedy line has new meaning in the context of Bill Clinton's now-famous interview with Chris Wallace.

The answer is quintessentially Clintonian: It depends. In this case, what one saw depends on where one sits on the political fence.

Republicans saw a guilty, purple-faced ex-president desperately trying to deflect attention from his administration's failings. Democrats saw an overdue smack down of a partisan hack by a brilliant statesmen fed up with slanderous disinformation.

So who's right? Perhaps both by degrees.

Clinton was clearly angry when Wallace asked him why he hadn't connected the dots before 9/1l and done more to eliminate Osama bin Laden.

In response, Clinton leaned into Wallace's space, wagged his finger, poked Wallace's notepad and went off on a "tear," as Wallace later put it.

Clinton said that he did more than "some" to try to get bin Laden and urged everyone to read Richard Clarke's book, "Against All Enemies," for confirmation of the Clinton version of history. Clarke, a Republican, was a counterterrorism official for three presidents, including Clinton and George W. Bush.

Toss out an assertion like that in today's political environment and the blogosphere will shift into hyper-warp speed. Within hours, several reputable bloggers had dissected Clinton's claims as inaccurate (if true-ish), and the Republican National Committee had issued a point-by-point refutation with names, dates and sources.

Whatever Clinton did or didn't do as president, it's interesting to ponder what he's doing now. Why would he lash out at the amiable and (BEG ITAL)un(END ITAL)-partisan Wallace? Was it a strategic strike, as Democrats claim? Or did Clinton show more of his legendary temper than he intended?

As I've written before, Clinton has a right to be angry about distortions of his record as recently portrayed in the ABC docudrama "The Path to 9/11." There's no benefit to massaging the historical record for dramatic effect. Clinton's response to Wallace clearly was prompted in part by that recent episode of partly fictionalized history.

But Clinton's demeanor with Wallace betrayed something more than mere annoyance. His face assumed what the Irish called a ``warp-spasm,'' a transformative anger that revealed a repressed rage and the kind of sneer that gets schoolboys punched in the nose.

Before answering the question, Clinton attacked Wallace's journalistic credibility, saying: "You did Fox's bidding," and calling it a "nice little conservative hit job."

"You've got that little smirk on your face," Clinton said, "and you think you're so clever."

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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