Still falling for Bill

Posted: Aug 13, 2002 12:00 AM
It's been almost two years since Bill Clinton left office, leaving only piles of purchased pardons and the carpet indentations of all the suddenly missing free furniture, but many Democrats have yet to overcome their addiction to Clinton's political mojo. And where the Democrats go, many reporters are sure to follow, enthusiastically putting Clinton's soiled image into a cycle of rinse and repeat. The Washington Post's Kevin Merida reports that during a Bethesda, Md., fundraiser featuring Clinton, one Democratic admirer thought Clinton would walk away with the 2004 presidential nomination if he could have it. "Absolutely. Clear the field. No doubt about it," said the man, who also compared the ex-president to baseball legends Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Over at Newsweek, Howard Fineman chirps that -- a still-influential Clinton was advising three influential senators on speeches to the recent meeting of the Democratic Leadership Council -- potential 2004 presidential contenders John Kerry and John Edwards, as well as his perennially betrayed spouse, Senator Hillary. Merida caught Clinton's class warfare attack line (he told the Bethesda crowd that Republicans "act mean" to poor people) while Fineman wrote that Clinton is telling all his advisees to hit President Bush, and hard. Both reporters found that Democrats loved the attack advice, yet neither found a hypocrisy here. Remember the "politics of personal destruction" line Clinton made famous every time he got into trouble and recast himself as the victim? Like so many Washington political observers, these reporters just don't seem to understand -- or care -- how much Clinton is and always was a political groin-kicker. How quickly they forget the daily catapults of invective at "out-of-control prosecutor" Ken Starr. How puzzling they cannot locate a contrast worthy of their quills as they float daily through a Washington wherein the current president refuses to play that game. But Merida and Fineman are only casual chroniclers of the Clinton "magic" compared to Howell Raines, the executive editor of the New York Times. PBS talk show host Charlie Rose recently asked him how history would judge the 42nd president. "Huge political talent. Huge political vision," Raines began. He said he wouldn't claim to know how the history books would turn out, but he did offer his own: "I think President Clinton's role in modernizing the Democratic Party around a set of economic ideas and also holding onto the principles of social justice, and presiding over the greatest prosperity in human history -- those would seem to me to have to be central to his legacy," he gushed. Every Clinton fan begins the historical review with Clinton's "huge political talent." There's truth in that statement: He not only defeated an incumbent and won re-election in a veritable landslide but also was able to put the Republican Party on the defensive -- in fact, on trial -- with the American public after being impeached. But the manner in which he did so -- lying about anything and everything while shamelessly destroying anyone in his path -- is worthy of nothing but disdain from sober political analysts. And where was this "huge vision"? For Clinton, there was no vision, only strategies and tactics on the most basic political levels, and always geared toward self-advancement. I recall only one Clinton "visionary" statement, his State of the Union declaration that the "era of big government is over." I also recall that shortly thereafter, he tried to nationalize health care, which would have socialized one seventh of the U.S. economy. Perhaps Raines is most ridiculous in crediting Clinton for supervising "the greatest prosperity in human history." He had no space in his historical vision for the Republicans in Congress who foiled that potentially economy-strangling Hillary health-nationalization plan and then backed him into welfare reform and balanced budgets. Raines certainly had no room for Ronald Reagan's vision after the Gipper left office having triggered the greatest peacetime economic expansion while winning the Cold War. Nine years ago, on the same Charlie Rose venue, Raines complained that "The Reagan years oppressed me because of the callousness and the greed and the hard-hearted attitude toward people who have very little in this society." A decade ago, Raines wrote in the book he was plugging on PBS that "Reagan couldn't tie his shoelaces if his life depended on it." Today, Raines slobbers over Clinton. The media no longer dote on Clinton's every word -- especially when they're ridiculous, as when the aging draft-evader claims he'd pick up a gun and fight and die for Israel. But the wistful tone of some media Clinton recollections sharply point out the need for vigilant reminders of the Clinton presidency in all its discouraging details.