The Singular William Jefferson Clinton

The image of Bill Clinton electrifying the crowd at the Democratic National Convention the other night resists facile analysis. Many conservatives have wasted valuable time they could have devoted to serious drinking or playing cards cursing at that image and shaking their fists in impotent displays of indignation and frustration. They would do well to heed the words I heard a security guard at a lower Manhattan government building speak to passport applicants: "Follow the rules! Unless your name is Clinton, the rules apply to you!"

His name is Clinton, and the rules don't apply to him. Learn it; accept it; live it.

Speaking as one conservative, I thank the fates for allowing me to live during the Age of Clinton. The man is pure humbug, but what a magnificent humbug! Long ago, perhaps in another life, he kissed the Blarney Stone and the ancient rock got turned on. It has never stopped bestowing its favors.

There he was, biting his lower lip, faux-sternly admonishing the crowd to mute its adulation, jabbing his finger, serving up liberal portions of red meat to vegan liberals who licked their chops and called for more. If you dismiss this extraordinary performer as a mere snake oil salesman, it is your life that is the poorer for it. Through a failure of imagination, you deprive yourself of a unique, truly cathartic theatrical experience.

He said: "They [the Republicans] took us from record surpluses to an exploding national debt; from over 22 million new jobs down to 5 million." Now, Clinton's economic record is a decidedly mixed bag. The short, shallow recession trumpeted from the rooftops 24/7 by a mainstream media enamored of the youthful Democrat doomed Poppa Bush's presidency, but it was over before Bush left office. Clinton's deficit-reducing plan never ranked first among the factors that gradually lowered the deficit. But, of course, all of this overlooks the elephant in the room: on September 11, 2001, jihadists hijacked four planes and flew three of them into buildings. This unprecedented event, largely the consequence of a foreign policy marked by fecklessness, indecision, and outright indifference, inflicted a trillion-dollar hit on a U.S. economy that was already in trouble. The bursting of the dot-com bubble before the end of Clinton's second term produced a recession that his water-carriers would blame, shamelessly and improbably, on his successor, George W. Bush.  (For details on Clinton's record, I recommend Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years, by Rich Lowry [Regnery 2003] as a thoughtful, if highly critical discussion.)

Yes, Bill understands -- he really does. And, yes, he realizes that many voters understand as well. But he is, above all, a magician, and as such, he requires of his audience the willful suspension of disbelief. It is not my purpose to deconstruct his encomium to Barack Obama's judgment. If John McCain can't capitalize on the judgment of a man who believes that the world would be better with Saddam Hussein still in power and who has worked hard and unapologetically to lose a war we are winning, he doesn't deserve to be President. I want simply to isolate two moments from Bill's big speech, as they are the purest embodiment of him. They are the quintessential Bill Clinton.

Of the opposing candidate, he said: "The Republicans will nominate a good man who served our country heroically and suffered terribly in Vietnam. He loves our country every bit as much as we all do." Breathtaking. Words fail me. He is magnanimously allowing that a man who, after his fighter jet was shot down, turned down an early release from a North Vietnamese prison, was tortured and beaten for five years-- that man just might love his country as much as someone whose intricate footwork to avoid the draft would have dazzled Fred Astaire.

There were delegates present -- a small but influential minority, to be sure -- who despise America. They are among the people who denied Clinton's wife the object of her lust, and many of them regard this nation as a wicked, racist, failed experiment. He is willing to grant that the man whose bones were broken by the same enemies of America that some of these delegates supported forty years ago loves his country as much as they do.

The calculated effrontery was spectacular. By osmosis, McCain's heroism is transferred to Clinton, who gets to be the one who looks gracious -- fabulous stuff, simply fabulous! Raging, sputtering, kicking the TV -- none of these responses are appropriate. One should simply stand in awe. Any further comments would be superfluous.

Bill Clinton's eternal fascination lies in his ability to play "Can You Top This?" with himself. He may have succeeded with the following exercise in purposeful ambiguity: "Together we prevailed in a campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief. Sound familiar? It didn't work in 1992..."

You know the carny games that appear so easy? Did you ever win at one of them? When Bill spoke those words, every Republican and conservative in the country jumped up and yelled: "They were right! You stunk! You were an atrocious Commander-in-Chief. What about Haiti? Somalia -- remember Somalia? Bosnia? The Khobar Towers? The embassies in Africa? The USS Cole? You gotta be kidding!" Yup, this time you really nailed the rascal.

Actually, you are enmeshed in the itty-bitty con inside the Big Con, the teaser designed to let the mark think he's smart. Pause a bit and mull over Bill's choice of words. He could have claimed that the Republicans accused him of being too young and inexperienced to be President, or to manage the world's largest economy. He didn't. He very carefully invited us -- no, dared us -- to examine his performance as Commander-in-Chief. At the risk of repeating myself, he knows. And he knows you know. So, how on earth is this supposed to help the candidate he is endorsing?

No, you didn't nail the rascal. Nobody can ever do that. But, most assuredly, someone got nailed, and got nailed but good! Hmmm, who could that be?

There's this rock star with rather large ears who, according to the mainstream media, is capable of walking on water....
The image of Bill Clinton electrifying the crowd at the Democratic National Convention the other night resists facile analysis. Many conservatives have wasted valuable time they could have devoted to serious drinking or playing cards cursing at that image and shaking their fists in impotent displays of indignation and frustration. They would do well to heed the words I heard a security guard at a lower Manhattan government building speak to passport applicants: "Follow the rules! Unless your name is Clinton, the rules apply to you!"

His name is Clinton, and the rules don't apply to him. Learn it; accept it; live it.

Speaking as one conservative, I thank the fates for allowing me to live during the Age of Clinton. The man is pure humbug, but what a magnificent humbug! Long ago, perhaps in another life, he kissed the Blarney Stone and the ancient rock got turned on. It has never stopped bestowing its favors.

There he was, biting his lower lip, faux-sternly admonishing the crowd to mute its adulation, jabbing his finger, serving up liberal portions of red meat to vegan liberals who licked their chops and called for more. If you dismiss this extraordinary performer as a mere snake oil salesman, it is your life that is the poorer for it. Through a failure of imagination, you deprive yourself of a unique, truly cathartic theatrical experience.

He said: "They [the Republicans] took us from record surpluses to an exploding national debt; from over 22 million new jobs down to 5 million." Now, Clinton's economic record is a decidedly mixed bag. The short, shallow recession trumpeted from the rooftops 24/7 by a mainstream media enamored of the youthful Democrat doomed Poppa Bush's presidency, but it was over before Bush left office. Clinton's deficit-reducing plan never ranked first among the factors that gradually lowered the deficit. But, of course, all of this overlooks the elephant in the room: on September 11, 2001, jihadists hijacked four planes and flew three of them into buildings. This unprecedented event, largely the consequence of a foreign policy marked by fecklessness, indecision, and outright indifference, inflicted a trillion-dollar hit on a U.S. economy that was already in trouble. The bursting of the dot-com bubble before the end of Clinton's second term produced a recession that his water-carriers would blame, shamelessly and improbably, on his successor, George W. Bush.  (For details on Clinton's record, I recommend Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years, by Rich Lowry [Regnery 2003] as a thoughtful, if highly critical discussion.)

Yes, Bill understands -- he really does. And, yes, he realizes that many voters understand as well. But he is, above all, a magician, and as such, he requires of his audience the willful suspension of disbelief. It is not my purpose to deconstruct his encomium to Barack Obama's judgment. If John McCain can't capitalize on the judgment of a man who believes that the world would be better with Saddam Hussein still in power and who has worked hard and unapologetically to lose a war we are winning, he doesn't deserve to be President. I want simply to isolate two moments from Bill's big speech, as they are the purest embodiment of him. They are the quintessential Bill Clinton.

Of the opposing candidate, he said: "The Republicans will nominate a good man who served our country heroically and suffered terribly in Vietnam. He loves our country every bit as much as we all do." Breathtaking. Words fail me. He is magnanimously allowing that a man who, after his fighter jet was shot down, turned down an early release from a North Vietnamese prison, was tortured and beaten for five years-- that man just might love his country as much as someone whose intricate footwork to avoid the draft would have dazzled Fred Astaire.

There were delegates present -- a small but influential minority, to be sure -- who despise America. They are among the people who denied Clinton's wife the object of her lust, and many of them regard this nation as a wicked, racist, failed experiment. He is willing to grant that the man whose bones were broken by the same enemies of America that some of these delegates supported forty years ago loves his country as much as they do.

The calculated effrontery was spectacular. By osmosis, McCain's heroism is transferred to Clinton, who gets to be the one who looks gracious -- fabulous stuff, simply fabulous! Raging, sputtering, kicking the TV -- none of these responses are appropriate. One should simply stand in awe. Any further comments would be superfluous.

Bill Clinton's eternal fascination lies in his ability to play "Can You Top This?" with himself. He may have succeeded with the following exercise in purposeful ambiguity: "Together we prevailed in a campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief. Sound familiar? It didn't work in 1992..."

You know the carny games that appear so easy? Did you ever win at one of them? When Bill spoke those words, every Republican and conservative in the country jumped up and yelled: "They were right! You stunk! You were an atrocious Commander-in-Chief. What about Haiti? Somalia -- remember Somalia? Bosnia? The Khobar Towers? The embassies in Africa? The USS Cole? You gotta be kidding!" Yup, this time you really nailed the rascal.

Actually, you are enmeshed in the itty-bitty con inside the Big Con, the teaser designed to let the mark think he's smart. Pause a bit and mull over Bill's choice of words. He could have claimed that the Republicans accused him of being too young and inexperienced to be President, or to manage the world's largest economy. He didn't. He very carefully invited us -- no, dared us -- to examine his performance as Commander-in-Chief. At the risk of repeating myself, he knows. And he knows you know. So, how on earth is this supposed to help the candidate he is endorsing?

No, you didn't nail the rascal. Nobody can ever do that. But, most assuredly, someone got nailed, and got nailed but good! Hmmm, who could that be?

There's this rock star with rather large ears who, according to the mainstream media, is capable of walking on water....