'He’s back'

Posted: Apr 04, 2002 12:00 AM
I'm not a gambling man. Because when I do gamble, I usually lose. My NCAA tournament picks are evidence of that. But my former employer, CNN, is taking a gamble. So is Newsweek magazine. They're both betting that people are still interested in re-fighting the partisan battles that marked the Clinton Administration. That seems to be the explanation for the revamped “Crossfire”, which launched April 1. The new “Crossfire” -- now an hour long instead of a half hour -- isn’t an April Fool's joke. But it often seemed like one on its first day. The two hosts “on the left” are Paul Begala and James Carville, former advisors in the Clinton Administration. Their goal was clear even before the show went on the air: Blame the Bush administration for what’s going wrong in the world, and claim that the Clinton Administration was superior. Begala began by lashing out during a promotional interview with Judy Woodruff on “Inside Politics”: “we had the most successful Middle East policy under Bill Clinton that this country has ever had in its history. It brought the parties closer to peace than they've been in 5,000 years. Bush walks away from it. Chaos ensues….Bill Clinton did a terrific job. He brought the parties to the brink of peace. And Bush decided to walk away from all that. That's abdication.” Carville tried to make that same point. He told Woodruff, “this (current Middle East policy) is going to turn out to be the biggest foreign policy debacle in the United States since Vietnam. This idea somehow or another we could disengage from Israeli-Palestinian conflict and concentrate on other things was stupid when it started. And this administration is paying the price.” Carville’s difficult to understand under the best of circumstances, and the “Crossfire” format is anything but the best of circumstances. However, he seems to be saying that if President Bush had continued President Clinton’s policies, there would be less violence in the Middle East today. That worldview has the advantage of being simplistic, and the disadvantage of being wrong. Most people would tend to blame the Palestinian suicide bombers -- not the Bush administration -- for the escalating violence. After all, it isn’t Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice who are blowing up hotels and restaurants and killing scores of Israelis -- it’s Palestinian terrorists. And don’t forget that the current Palestinian uprising started in Sept. of 2000, while Clinton was still in office. It was a direct outgrowth of Clinton’s failed Camp David summit. It may or may not be a coincidence that the April 8 edition of Newsweek magazine -- with Clinton on the cover -- landed in mailboxes on the very day that the new “Crossfire” went on the air. Newsweek brags of an “exclusive” interview with Clinton. One thing the story makes clear is that the former president isn’t leaving it up to his minions to burnish his legacy. Since leaving office in Jan. 2001, Clinton has made almost 200 speeches and visited 30 nations. He seems more popular outside the United States, since he earns between $200,000 and $300,000 per speech overseas. He settles for as little as $125,000 for domestic appearances. Clinton needs the money to pay the legal bills that piled up while he was in office, to support his Presidential Library in Arkansas (under construction) and to fund shopping sprees. For example, while in Brazil recently he purchased bikinis and sarongs. For his daughter, he says. It will be interesting to see if the American people are still interested enough in Clinton to buy Newsweek and watch “Crossfire”. If they are, other publications will surely line up to produce their own cover stories about the former President. But history will reach its verdict about the Clinton Administration based on what happened then, not on what’s said about it now. So Begala can keep attacking, Carville can keep hollering and Clinton can keep making speeches for decades to come. But they can’t change the past. Remember that the next time you see an “exclusive” interview with the 42ed President, or endure a harangue from one of his advisors.