Bill Clinton and America

Interesting watching Bill Clinton on 60 Minutes tonight. I’m sure that in other parts the usual machinery is gearing up to throw things at the ex-President for his disingenuousness, even his daring to speak in public at all now.

My perspective at this point is: love him or hate him, I think the contrast between him and our current President, and even John Kerry, could not be greater. Clinton is probably the closest thing the American presidency has produced since Lincoln to a tragic Shakespearian figure. (FDR, in his secret wheelchair, might come close.) But Clinton’s ambition, his deep desire to change the world, and his Falstaffian appetites add up to the real deal: a passionate, accomplished, and deeply flawed American who by all rights should be remembered for having accomplished great things, but will instead be remembered with a cigar in his hand.

But with all that, he is still the most approachable of all Presidents, a man who is not afraid to talk about his upbringing, to hang out with grade-school buddies in a diner (and look like many a middle-aged Southern man while doing it). A man who says he and his wife went through a year of a day a week in therapy, apart and together, and says it on TV, who looks the nation in the eye and can say, “I recommend that if you invest a bunch of years in a marriage that you try counseling before you give it all up.”

In contrast, our current president’s troglodytic failure in more than thirty seconds in a press conference to identify one thing he’d done wrong, in a presidency that has consisted of 266 days of vacation, 30 of those prior to the deadliest terrorist attack on US soil, followed by an invasion of Afghanistan (justified but unfinished and understaffed) and an invasion of Iraq under false pretenses, and who continues to insist that there was a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda despite all the facts, stands as evidence that he’s not worthy to wipe Bill’s wingtips.

I don’t know if we’ve seen enough of John Kerry to know where he falls on that spectrum. He certainly doesn’t have the easy affability of Clinton, but clearly he doesn’t have the duplicitous ideological idiocy of George W. and his retinue. But I think that the fact that Clinton could score the top three spots on Blogdex (two on the book, one about a BBC interview gone astray) when he isn’t even campaigning, during an election year, means that Kerry needs to step up his charm offensive if he is to come out from the ex-President’s shadow.