FEW things are sadder than former greats past their prime: a bloated
Elvis Presley in a sequined suit; a diminished Michael Jordan making
one last comeback with the Washington Wizards. And now a gaunt Bill
Clinton desperately plugging his wife's doomed presidential campaign-
the Big Dog in winter.
With his media enablers gone, with his
most faithful constituency (African-Americans) lured away by another,
with the prospect of again attaining the commanding heights of American
politics lost, with his magic touch in abeyance, Bill Clinton has been
whittled down to a long, self-pitying plaint.
For a man
blessed with so much talent, fame and riches, Clinton has always had an
unparalleled ability to see himself as beset by cosmic unfairness. In
his telling, the 2008 Democratic primaries are the fruit of another
vast conspiracy against the Clintons, who have struggled against a
biased media, cheating unions, unfair rules and malevolent left-wing
There's some truth in this. But, given all
the advantages the Clinton machine brought into the primary season
against the tyro Illinois senator, Bill Clinton is in a poor position
to whine, except he doesn't have the willpower or grace to resist it.
The usual audience for his excuse-making isn't listening. Witness the
scathing Vanity Fair profile of the post-presidential Clinton by former
New York Times White House correspondent Todd Purdum. It once was "easy
enough to retain an enduring affection" for Clinton, he writes, despite
"his indiscipline" and "shortcomings." No more.
Clinton has been campaigning against the great, young liberal hope that
he himself represented back in 1992. Now that he's on the wrong side of
history, liberals can see all the shortcomings they formerly looked
past because Clinton had all the right (in every sense) enemies.
Purdum writes of Bill Clinton's money-grubbing, dubious
associations, eyebrow-raising connections to women and spectacularly
sophistical self-justification as if they are some kind of departure.
Was he not paying attention during Clinton's 12 years as Arkansas
governor and eight years as president? The exact circumstances may have
changed - Clinton used to raise funny money for his campaign coffers
rather than vacuum it into his bank account and foundation - but poor
character and judgment are enduring.
Clinton's office released
a wounded memo responding to Purdum, complaining (among other things)
that the journalist didn't talk to "two Nobel Prize winners who have
praised the president's foundation." Please. These Nobel Prize winners
aren't hanging out with Clinton late at night and paying him millions.
Purdum focuses on Clinton wingmen like the good-time billionaire mogul
Ron Burkle, who paid Clinton more than $15 million from 2003 to 2007
for advice and rainmaking.
African-Americans have bailed on
Clinton just like elite journalists. Clinton had a special bond with
blacks, which he used as a moral bludgeon. He couched his fight against
impeachment as almost a civil-rights struggle, with the Congressional
Black Caucus dutifully playing along. Noting Clinton's hardball tactics
against Barack Obama,
Rep. James Clyburn said, "I think black folks feel strongly that this
is a strange way for President Clinton to show his appreciation." As if
Clinton were ever moved by anything deeper than an instinct for
Bill Clinton has always been a man
threatened to be swallowed by the yawning maw of his own ego. Even as
he's tirelessly stumped the country on his wife's behalf, he's given
the impression that it's all about him. His rage at the process - his
temper tantrums at reporters and twisted attempts to make himself
always the victim - speaks to an aggrieved sense of entitlement, that
for all his good fortune he's owed even more.
sense will ensure his post-presidential career continues to be a
restless, cringe-making affair. When he comes around to supporting
Obama, who can doubt that he'll compare the candidate to himself, in
the highest of all possible praise?