It is perhaps fitting that Bill Clinton has been spending the last days of his presidency out on the road, in the manner of old washed-up entertainers who make endless "farewell" appearances, trying to cling to the fading limelight as long as possible. He is going out in character, even if not in style or with class.
Nor is he likely to remain silent on the sidelines as new people take over the reins of government, as ex-presidents before him have done. His parting cheap shot at President-elect George W. Bush is probably a harbinger of what to expect in the years ahead.
Some of the sillier members of the media may welcome his future outbursts from the sidelines, which will provide them with good copy and provide him with both an outlet and encouragement. But, inevitably, with the passage of time he will become increasingly irrelevant and a source of embarrassment that we would prefer to ignore.
Those who are looking for a Clinton "legacy" will have few achievements to celebrate. Even the prospering economy for which he endlessly and shamelessly took credit began with an upturn in the months before he took office. The budget surplus was a product of that economy and of the rising tax revenues it produced, along with the big-spending Democrats' loss of the House of Representatives in 1994, which foreclosed Clinton's chances of getting his runaway spending proposals through Congress.
Another achievement for which Clinton has tried to claim credit was the Republican welfare reform legislation. When the Republicans were pushing welfare reform in Congress, Clinton simply realized that he couldn't lick 'em politically and decided instead to join 'em and claim a share of the credit.
This is not to say that Clinton will leave no legacy. He will. He will leave a legacy of unprecedented corruption of all the fundamental institutions of government.
For a President of the United States to commit felonies and get away with them is a deadly legacy that may embolden future presidents to disregard the law -- and on things far more serious than cheap sex. Once you have demonstrated how brazen lying and character assassination against those who prosecute you, or who serve as witnesses, can get you through the worst scandals, you have left behind a blueprint for the further corruption of government.
The Justice Department and even the courts have been corrupted by the Clinton administration. Sweetheart deals for felons who kept quiet about Clinton scandals -- whether Whitewater or illegal foreign campaign contributions -- are as symptomatic of the moral bankruptcy of Janet Reno's Justice Department as the seizing of little Elian Gonzalez at gunpoint in the middle of the night.
There is also a foreign policy legacy. Clinton has used foreign policy as a source of photo-ops and as distractions from his domestic scandals. His policy in the middle east has been to respond to Palestinian violence by pressuring Israel to make concessions. That produces photo-ops -- and, after the photo ops are over, more violence to get more concessions.
Clinton has swept the catastrophic dangers of nuclear proliferation under the rug, especially in North Korea, along with freeing Saddam Hussein to develop nuclear and biological weapons in Iraq without any more inspections. Clinton has over-ruled his own military and intelligence experts to allow China to buy high-tech equipment that will enable them to reach American cities with nuclear missiles. That is perhaps his most chilling legacy.
Some have lamented that a man of such obvious talents as Bill Clinton should have failed to realize the full fruits of those talents and has had them overshadowed by scandals. But the talents of Bill Clinton have always been directed toward the advancement, the aggrandizement and the self-indulgences of Bill Clinton. His talents were never directed toward the public good. Why should it matter whether he didn't promote himself more successfully or that some of his more sordid deeds came to light?
Psychobabble explanations of political events have led to claims that "Clinton-haters" are responsible for the criticisms of the Clinton-Gore administration. Yet many of the people described as Clinton-haters would probably be content if he were to become rich enough to buy his own island in the South Seas and go live there. What Clinton's critics really want is for this country to be free of the embarrassment and the lasting damage wrought by this over-age adolescent who defiled the White House.