If we Americans were not participants in our democracy, not people deeply affected by political outcomes, just spectators taking in the show, you could not ask for anything much more fascinating than the Clinton saga.
The story has been funny, sometimes sad, sometimes dramatic, always engrossing, starting, of course, with Bill Clinton. He is someone I first met when he was governor of Arkansas. I was at a Denver conference on literacy, he followed me outside when I went to puff on a since-banished pipe and he told me the story of his political career.
He was convivial, he was fun, he impressed.
Though a solitary journalist with limited readership reach, I was an opportunity for him, and he made the most of it with his friendliness. What he hinted at that day was hardly out of synch with what I have seen since: high ambition and energy accompanied by a capacity for give-and-take, practical moderation usually ruling over ideological certainty and political wiliness.
Those characteristics were often pluses when he got to be president, but not some other characteristics that accompanied them, such as immaturity, dishonesty and a lack of self-discipline that gave us the Monica Lewinsky adventure along with perjury and obstruction of justice.
Blame Republicans for making too much of it if you like, but he definitely shared responsibility. His lapses constituted setbacks for the nation even though, all along, there was his wife, there was Hillary Clinton, there was somebody who was nearly his opposite in ways good and bad.
Someone who used to go to policy-wonk bull sessions with the Clintons and others in the couple’s Little Rock days once told me that Gov. Clinton had views on everything, but did not seem overly ideological, took heed of what others said and sometimes changed his mind. But not his wife, not Mrs. Clinton.
She was more ideological, more forceful and unbending, and that’s part of what she has been in public life, too. She is the commendably hard-working, utterly self-disciplined partner who is always right, shoves others aside when they get in the way, but recently tried to get us to believe in a softer self in the way she announced her second run as a Democratic candidate for the presidency.
We were treated to a policy-barren, public relations video stunt trying to portray her as the “champion” of “everyday Americans” at the mercy of “those at the top.” She herself is at the top, a multimillionaire doing everyday public university, tuition-torn students no favor with a $300,000 price tag for a speech, as one example. She could do the young generation far worse hurt if she becomes president thinking elitist progressivism will solve a debt problem that could crush them.
She has far more experience than most possible rivals, but she bollixed her role as spousal adviser to President Bill Clinton in the way she developed and presented a health care proposal that mostly boosted Republicans. She made no splash as a senator and accomplished nothing noticeable as secretary of state, although she seemed more on target on some matters than her boss.
She has survived scandals that don’t seem likely to sink her even as they point to sneakiness, deception and insensitivity to what rule of law requires. She has said stupid things, such as telling us that businesses don’t provide jobs, but she is obviously super bright.
The main thing this Clinton has going for her besides near universal name recognition is that she is a she. Large numbers of women and not a few men understandably would like finally to get a woman president, she still does well in the polls and the enthusiasts could carry the day. The Clinton saga could conceivably go on for quite a while, but to the nation’s benefit? I doubt it.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.