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Sherman Yellen

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Bill Clinton, Won't You Please Come Home?

Posted: 06/07/2012 3:00 pm

I've always been a big fan of Bill Clinton, even when Bill made that real hard for me. When he was president I watched him adopt some Republican positions like the destruction of welfare for poor families -- they called it reform, I called it cruelty to small children -- all in the name of political expediency. And I watched him lie, sweat and wiggle his way out of his Monica Lewinsky scandal. I was outraged less by his horn dog, bad boy behavior than by the fact that personal sexual behavior could become the source of a politically driven impeachment, and do lasting harm to the decent programs he wanted to institute for the future.

In this case the anti-Clinton attack was led by a pack of Republican hypocrites, some of whom were secret or known adulterers who had seized on Clinton's lie about "sex with that woman" to bring him down. But thinking back, I enjoyed Clinton as a president who on balance tried to do more good than harm, despite his failings in judgment, and mine. You couldn't help but like the man.

I applauded his great support of Hillary during her presidential candidacy: it seemed real, not the paying off of a marital debt but a true belief in her great talents. And somehow all that affable Clinton stuff has to be enjoyed. By moving his office to Harlem he managed to convince the black community that he was their best friend, and by palling around with Bush the elder he managed to convince many Republicans that he was a good fellow after all, one who was able to see the best in a political foe, and wink, wink, still make deals when necessary. And by smiling his way through the past several years -- difficult years for so many Clinton supporters -- he warmed more hearts than mine. Good cheer is in short supply in this country these days, and the purveyor of it deserves our thanks.

I did have one difficult time with Clinton. I happened to attend a memorial service for an old college friend of mine a few years ago. My friend was a famous and accomplished man, one who had as a sideline offered his political writing talent to help Clinton, and now in this memorial service, Clinton was repaying that debt.

I watched Clinton praise this former friend of mine -- someone I knew since long ago college days: praise him for his sterling character, his generosity, his gifts to humanity. And I knew the man he praised was a liar, a cheat, a bully, a coward and what the great humorist PG Wodehouse might have called "a blot on the landscape." It was an opinion shared by most who had trusted or befriended this man during his lifetime.

Clinton was so charming in his praise for this man, so sincere in his speech, that I almost forgot the true character of the subject and settled on being amazed by Clinton's rhetorical power. Clinton did "sincere" better than anyone I had ever known. But I knew that the character of the deceased would have been obvious to anyone who was not dazzled by professional success, because that man's character was not in hiding. The man had a skill for social climbing that was amazing to behold, acts and words designed to raise him high in the pecking order of the world while pushing others down a rung or two. I suspect that Clinton saw in him a kindred spirit, one who would do or say anything to achieve his goals, conflating his own ambitions with the good of the world, and like Clinton he was a master of his art.

I don't name the man here because this isn't about him but about Clinton, who is so perceptive that he must have seen these flaws but chose to disregard them because it was to his advantage to do so.

This all comes down to Clinton's recent defense of Romney's years at Bain Capital, a gratuitous offering of support to Romney clearly designed to injure the Obama campaign, despite his denials. It is, I fear, another instance of "I did not have sex with that woman." I don't for a moment believe that Clinton thinks that Bain was the model of beneficent capitalism, or that he shares the Republican notion of trickle down prosperity, which has time and again been proven a total failure. I could not help but see it as an opening for Bill Clinton to make friends with the Republicans and help to set up Hillary for big donors when she runs for president -- and she will -- in 2016, particularly after what will probably be a disastrous Romney presidency should Romney be elected.

What was Bill thinking when he stepped out to criticize the Obama campaign and praise Romney? He surely wasn't thinking about the Congress, the courts and the presidency as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Koch Brothers and their friends once Romney is elected. Was he thinking about the suppression of minority voting rights, or the repression of women's rights, those of his daughter and my young granddaughters that will come with a Romney presidency, or the total destruction of the trade unions, with the disparity between the uber-rich and the under-employed majority so great that it will take generations to remedy that destruction of American life?

No, he was thinking, "Here I am, Bill Clinton, charmer of the world, and I better grab the spotlight from a struggling president and save the future for myself." If he continues to carry on that way, it will be a long journey home for him with nobody smiling and cheering.

 
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