Few things are sadder than former greats past their prime. A bloated Elvis Presley in a sequined suit; a diminished Michael Jordan making one last comeback with the Washington Wizards; and, we can add, a gaunt Bill Clinton desperately plugging his wife's doomed presidential campaign -- the Big Dog in winter.
With his media enablers gone, with his most faithful constituency (African-Americans) lured away by another, with the prospect of again attaining the commanding heights of American politics lost, with his magic touch in abeyance, Bill Clinton has been whittled down to a long, self-pitying plaint.
For a man blessed with so much talent, fame and riches, Clinton has always had an unparalleled ability to see himself as beset by cosmic unfairness. In his telling, the 2008 Democratic primaries are the fruit of another vast conspiracy against the Clintons, who have struggled against a biased media, cheating unions, unfair rules and malevolent left-wing pressure groups.
There's some truth in this. But, given all the advantages the Clinton machine brought into the primary season against the tyro senator from Illinois, Bill Clinton is in a poor position to whine, except he doesn't have the willpower or grace to resist it.
The usual audience for Clinton excuse-making isn't listening. Witness the long, scathing profile of the post-presidential Clinton in Vanity Fair by former New York Times White House correspondent Todd Purdum. Purdum writes that it once was "easy enough to retain an enduring affection" for Clinton, despite "his indiscipline" and "his shortcomings." Not anymore.
What changed? Clinton has been campaigning against the great, young liberal hope that he himself represented back in 1992. Now that he's on the wrong side of history, liberals can see all the shortcomings they formerly looked past because Clinton had all the right (in every sense) enemies.
Purdum writes of Bill Clinton's post-presidential money-grubbing, dubious associations, eyebrow-raising connections to women and spectacularly sophistical self-justification as if they are some kind of departure. Was he not paying attention during Clinton's 12 years as Arkansas governor and eight years as president? The exact circumstances may have changed -- Clinton used to raise funny money for his campaign coffers rather than vacuum it into his bank account and foundation - but poor character and judgment are enduring.