Paul Greenberg

There he was again, making a cameo appearance at another historical commemoration, grabbing a sliver of the limelight before it moves on. He's become the man who's always in the background but so clearly, achingly would rather be in the forefront: The Hon. William J. Clinton, former president, former governor, former everything but straight-shooter.

He was still as slick as ever when he got to speak for a few minutes on the 50th anniversary of the great March on Washington.

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Age has not withered nor custom staled his fine clintonesque touch, which consists not just of knowing what to say but, more important, what not to say, what parts of his long, long record not to mention, what truths to avoid at all costs, lest they mar the handsome Portrait of William Clinton he has so painstakingly created, having relegated the real unexpurgated one, with all its cracks and blemishes, to some dusty attic where the fashionable people would never venture.

The man never seems to miss an opportunity to do a little moral preening -- well, moralistic preening -- when real heroes are being celebrated. Whatever his actual record on the subject being discussed. This time it was the cause of civil rights. By now he's attached himself to it with barnacle-like devotion. Bill Clinton was never one to desert a good cause in its hour of victory.

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How little Bill Clinton has changed was demonstrated last Wednesday when, brow furrowed in that familiar, oh-so-sincere, finger-pointing way, every gray hair in place, he posed as some great champion of civil rights. Happily, no one seemed to notice the irony of having Bill Clinton talk about civil rights, a cause he studiously avoided supporting when it could have used a stalwart supporter in the Governor's Mansion.

But why go into detail? It might spoil the effect. Anyway, what good, red-white-and-blue, historically amnesiac American bothers to remember the specifics of the past? This is the country of the future, dude. As for the past, as the current awful phrase goes, it's history -- meaning it's over, finished, gone, irrelevant, as in, "he's history." Or as Clinton femme put it so memorably not long ago when she was being asked about her responsibility for some more recent history, "What difference at this point does it make?"


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.