Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Clinton's "My Life" Serves an Adult Portion

Gene Lyons
July 21, 2004

After watching Bill Clinton at relatively close range since 1976,
maybe I should have stronger feelings about him. Everybody else seems
to love him or hate him. Why can’t I get with the program? It was in that
spirit I decided to do what I suspected few early reviewers of his
encyclopedic “My Life,” had done: actually read the fool thing before
rushing into print.

Slate’s press critic Jack Shafer had the same suspicion. He asked
early reviewers, some of whom admitted reading Clinton’s book
selectively. He got no reply from Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times
critic who famously pronounced it “eye-crossingly dull.” (In the same
newspaper, novelist Larry McMurtry, called it “by a generous measure,
the richest American presidential autobiography.”)

Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum told Shafer she’d skipped
Clinton’s Arkansas political career, all 18 years of it. I’d suggest
she wouldn’t have admitted that had he matured in New York or California.
Also that the condescension of status-crazed Washington pundits towards
Clinton’s humble roots has always prevented their crediting the
bone-deep egalitarianism that’s one of his great virtues as a
politician and a man. See, Arkansans will tolerate an awful lot from their
politicians, but they will not abide a snob.

Clinton remains close to many people he’s known since grade
school. He sees them as equals and understands their lives. How many
powerful, self-made men do that? Several times as president, Clinton
annoyed the traveling press by dragging them to Arkansas to attend
funerals in remote locations like Jasper and Birdeye. He interrupted a
trip to China to return to Little Rock to help a childhood friend bury
his daughter. Had he begged off, as most of us would have, nobody would
have said a word.

Like most successful Southern politicians, the boy can tell a
funny story. If you make allowances for his tin ear—at one point
Clinton writes of his need “to recharge my batteries and water my roots”
(hopefully not simultaneously)—the Arkansas chapters read like early
Twain. Garrulous, energetic, endlessly curious, a sharp judge of
character, Clinton’s often the butt of his own humor: he’s the fat kid
who tripped and got butted by his granddad’s ram while others
skedaddled; the glad-handing pol who fled an Ozark mountaineer leading
a full-grown bear on a chain, but who told a truckload of Marion County
good old boys he’d get out and walk back to town before he’d chew a
plug of Red Man, only to have them crack up. He’d passed the test.

He also knows his enemies and what makes them tick: “the
self-righteous, con-demning Absolute Truth-claiming dark side of white
southern conservatism…Since I was a boy, I had watched people assert
their piety and moral superiority as justifications for claiming an
entitlement to political power, and for demonizing those who begged to
differ with them, usually over civil rights.”

Thus “Justice Jim” Johnson, the KKK-endorsed Arkansas
gubernatorial candidate whom Clinton confronted in his student days,
only to see him re-emerge helping peddle fables of drug-smuggling and
murder on the “Clinton Chronicles,” writing columns for the Washington
Times, advising Whitewater witnesses, and accepting emoluments from
Richard Mellon Scaife’s “Arkansas Project.” Thus too, at a politer
remove, Newt Gingrich and Kenneth Starr.

Clinton’s other great gift, his enormous, almost insatiable
intelligence, is something he’s understandably reticent about
discussing. That too excites envy and contempt from rivals. Always has.
Doesn’t seeing so many sides of every issue render him wishy-washy? No,
it often enables him to understand other people’s arguments better than
they do, while also grasping how they FEEL about what they think.

A lifelong student of power, Clinton’s accounts of his successful
negotiations to end the Irish “Troubles,” and his failed efforts to
solve the Israeli-Palestine crisis show him at his best: knowing every
disputed checkpoint in Jerusalem, and able to explain Rabin’s political
dilemmas to Arafat and vice-versa. When the Palestinian leader called
him a great man he answered, “I am not a great man. I am a failure, and
you have made me one.”

He’s also smart enough to give simple answers. Why don’t GOP
“supply-side theories work? “Arithmetic.” How would Bush vs. Gore been
decided had the Democrat been leading? “[T]he same Supreme Court would
have voted 9-0 to count the votes.”

Clinton’s ideology is almost pre-Socratic: Politically, you can’t
step into the same river twice. Get what you can today; come back
tomorrow. Here’s what I’d guess is Clinton’s favorite line about
himself: “Say what you want,” wrote Newsday’s Jimmy Breslin “but do not
say he quits.”

Sure Clinton can be a narcissist, like every other politician who
ever lived. Anyway, McMurtry’s right; it’s a fascinating book about an
extraordinary man. As for his sexual sins, I already knew more about
those than I needed to. Didn’t you?


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