The blogosphere and the folks in the press are all of a doo-dah because Bill Clinton “leveled sharp criticism” at President Bush; because Clinton “launched a withering attack” on his successor (something his predecessor, it must be said, refused to do when Clinton was in office, and even after).
Former President Bill Clinton “lambasted” President George W. Bush, and some in the press would have you believe this is something he has never done before.
Actually, President Clinton has tiptoed around the tactic of lambasting, sharply criticising or launching a “withering” attack against President Bush, several times. He has simply had the sense to do so tentatively, and discreetly – inserting a sly dig at Davos, a mild remark in Rio. This weekend, bouyed by campaign-trailish coverage and the sort of wonky gasbag-fest we know always energizes him, Clinton simply decided to get off his tippy-toes and step lively.
Some of this was predictable. The extreme left of the Democrat Party has grown into a fuming beast that needs constant feeding as it stomps around its cage, waiting to be unleashed. Because Mrs. Clinton is planning a run at the White House, she and her husband are simply shoveling at them the same Triangulation Kibble they used to feed the left (and the center) in 1991 and 1992 – except that this time the ingredients are reversed: this time Bill Clinton is the Hard Left Outside while Hillary is the Deeply Moderate Center. Same food, different packaging; it is a particularly useful recipe for both Clintons because his “centrist” credentials, and her “leftist” credentials are so firmly in place, that no matter how the ingredients are mixed, the same multitudes are fed, and things even taste the same.
All of that is so predictable, it’s almost boring. Bill and Hill are smothering us again, gearing up for another leg of their endless campaign. What’s on Channel 38?
In another way, yesterday’s unloading was simply Bill Clinton doing what he has always done. He serves not God, nor country, nor the simple dignity of an Office quite worthy of respect, before he serves his own towering ambition, and his other, sadly insatiable (and ultimately destructive) need – his need to be loved.
In this respect, President Clinton’s foregoing every tradition and precedent concerning how members of this very exclusive “President’s Club” treat each other has less to do with strategy and marketing and much more to do with his own damaged heart.
If you know nothing else about Bill Clinton than the fact that he grew up sort of “between fathers,” with a somewhat colorful and flamboyant mother, that he was a bright boy full to the brim with talent, but lugging around an aching void that was never filled and never healed, then you know enough about Bill Clinton to know why he dropped a bomb on George W. Bush yesterday.
Bill was the boy with nothing. George W. Bush was the boy with everything.
I’m not talking about material things, here. “Things” make one neither holy nor whole. Anyone who has read the letters of George H.W. Bush or really looked into the early years of George Walker Bush knows that the younger Bush grew up in a rather average house, with average playmates and a public elementary school. Nevertheless, George W. Bush had something Bill Clinton never had: a father who clearly loved him and a devoted mother whose first interest lay with her family. Forget material considerations. With those ample riches, the boy called Dubya grew up comfortable in his own skin and not needing to look outside of who he was, or who he loved, to find trustworthy affirmation and acceptance.
I have several memories of President Clinton in the days after the attacks of 9/11. Two of them stand out, and unfortunately, neither of them can be linked to, here, because – while I remember both events vividly – they cannot be found with internet search engines, and I wasn’t prescient enough to put them into a hard drive.
The first is a memory of a photograph taken at the National Cathedral on the National Day of Prayer, a few days after the attacks. President Bush had just made a stirring speech and returned to his seat, and his father, eyes misty with emotion, reached over to his son and grasped his hand in love and pride. Sitting a little further down the pew, Bill Clinton looked directly at the father and son with an expression of such heartfelt pain, grief and envy that my own heart broke for him. In that expression there was something very deep, very human and very raw, and I never “loved” Bill Clinton more than I did when gazing at that picture and taking in that 400-page Russian novel of a look.
I have searched, many times, for that photograph – in internet search engines and even in newspaper archives. The picture is easy to find, but always cropped – Bill Clinton is no longer visible in the Father/Son Bush Moment, or he has already looked away, red-faced. It’s too bad. One look at that picture goes a long way toward sympathetically explaining President Clinton.
The other memory I have is of a reporter coming up to Bill Clinton on the morning after Dubya gave a stirring speech to the joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001, a speech that even Bush’s harshest critics conceded was “stunningly effective and heartfelt.” The reporter asked Bill Clinton what he had thought of the speech and Clinton – former president and political junkie – replied shortly, “I didn’t watch it.”
Hard to believe he did not watch it. Not difficult to believe that in that instant a boy who grew up Billy Blythe-why-don’t-you-call-yourself-Clinton could not bear to extend a word of praise for a boy who grew up Dubya-you’re-our-boy, a boy who still had the love of his father and the adoration of his mother, and who was now being given a chance to do something “great.”
“Great” things have happened on Dubya’s watch. Yesterday the people of Afghanistan braved threats in order to vote – to have their fingers stained purple, just like the folks in Iraq a few months ago. You haven’t read much about it in the press, because the wrong president had a hand in this “great” event. Had Bill Clinton liberated Afghanistan, or brokered this deal with N. Korea, well…both Mr. Clinton and the press would be very, very happy, today. Dynamite would be on order for Mt. Rushmore.
We have been told that privately President Clinton has regretted the fact that during his 8 years in office such “opportunities for greatness” did not present themselves. Clinton, we were told, felt a little cheated that nothing happened on his watch that required bold action – and bold actions – not moderation and talkfests – beget “greatness.”
This is nonsense, of course. Opportunities present themselves in every age and the 1990′s were less a “vacation from history” than an administrative decision not to engage history, if at all possible. Hence, during the 1990′s Rwanda ran red with genocidal blood, tyrants dug in their heels, China amassed Western technologies, North Korea gathered nuclear material, and Islamofascist terrorists blew up American interests, holdings and naval vessels in regular two year intervals, and with seeming impunity. But Clintonian peace (“playing all things safe”) polled well, and if you translate poll numbers as love, and if love is the thing you crave above all…well…poll numbers can do the job, on some level.
President Clinton has been talking and talking and talking for the past few days, and when you talk that much, particularly when you know you are among friends, particularly if you are a little intoxicated from the heady brew of non-stop praise, you are apt to get a little sloppy with your pronouncements, and yesterday, Clinton got sloppy.
He has been all over the news as his “Clinton Global Initiative” invaded New York. The gathering, we were told, was an opportunity for President Clinton and his gaggle of wealthy pals to talk exhaustively on (and pledge money, or something to) one of four “critical challenges” – poverty, religious conflict, climate change and good governance. Notice, if you will that the threat of terrorism is not on that list. It is a subject that Clinton never quite seems to want on his radar.
Prior to the three day Clintonfest, the press began laying down palms and singing some troubling hosannas. As the weekend drew to a close, Clinton began to sing his own song and it had very simple lyrics: Billy is good. Not like that Dubya. Billy is a good, good boy.
Clinton said the Bush administration had decided to invade Iraq “virtually alone and before UN inspections were completed, with no real urgency, no evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction.”
Sloppy. As Jason asks:
Does this mean Bill Clinton is admitting he bombed Iraq to deflect attention away from his personal legal troubles? Because if the danger in Iraq presented “no real urgency” then how should these quotes be interpreted?
February 16, 1993 – “The regime of Saddam Hussein continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, as well as to regional peace and security.
June 26, 1993 – “… the Iraqi attack against President Bush was an attack against our country and against all Americans… Saddam Hussein has demonstrated repeatedly that he will resort to terrorism or aggression if left unchecked…”
April 7, 1994 – “Continued vigilance is necessary because we believe that Saddam Hussein is committed to rebuilding his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capability.
August 2, 1999 – “We are convinced that as long as Saddam Hussein remains in power, he will continue to threaten the well-being of his people, the peace of the region, and vital U.S. interests. … Iraq remains a serious threat to international peace and security.”
Powerline looks at other “bombs” Clinton dropped yesterday, on the handling of the Katrina disaster (he would have handled it better…maybe… even though FEMA didn’t get to Hurricanes Andrew or Hugo any more effectively than they did Katrina…), or the failure of the Iraqi Constitution to get “universal support,” (he would have done it better, but it might work out, anyway…) and they wonder about this Clinton quote from July 23, 2003:
I]t is incontestable that on the day I left office, there were unaccounted for stocks of biological and chemical weapons (in Iraq).
And then there is this – Clinton’s 1998 Statement on Iraq.
Sloppy, sloppy. When Bill Clinton is thinking with his head, he is too smart to be this sloppy – to make such controversial remarks that are so easily checked, and so easily contradicted.
No, President Clinton seems to be currently leading with that worrisome, troubled heart.
But…some might wonder…”how can he be leading with this heart if he’s going after Dubya, after all, he’s been working closely with Bush 41 on Tsunami and Katrina Relief, and by all accounts he really loves the old man…”
Yes, that’s problematic, that love. That Bush Senior is a warm, weepy gush of a man, particularly in his advanced years, is no secret, and it is very easy to believe that Bill Clinton – a genuine “people person,” might respond to that warmth – a fatherly warmth, shared by a man who also shared an office. We’ve read reports that Barbara Bush has referred to President Clinton as “son.” I can’t help but wonder if some of Clinton’s “lambasting” isn’t some sort of sibling-ish test of parental love (if I do this will you still love me? If I do that, will you? What about this?) or even a sibling rivalry?
Or, perhaps Clinton is not “testing” the Bush parents but simply falling apart because he doesn’t know if this “love” from them is real. It might be genuine. Wouldn’t that be great, like having real parents, a real family, a real father…but no…it can’t be. He mustn’t allow himself to believe that it might be real love, because if he succumbed to it, and he might want to – that could wreck so many of his plans!
But oh…how he might very willingly fall for a motherly pat on the back and the grasping hand of a father whose eyes are wet with pride.
And what if it isn’t real? What if this fondness, this “parental” sort of regard by the Bush elders is nothing but a strategy, a triangulation of their own, a way to get Bill Clinton to hoe the Bushian row…then…what incredible anger such trickery might provoke! He’ll have to show them he is too smart for their wily plans…he’ll pull away and play to his base – to the people who really, really love him, and whose love is never scary because it is always under his control!
This is very troubling stuff to consider. Very sad, troubling stuff. When a void needs to be filled with love, but it cannot be because love is confusing, or threatening, or simply not in the plans, then the void will be filled with something else.
I wonder if in Clinton’s profound need to be loved, either by “his public” or his “Bush parents” he is not approaching a place that is very self-destructive. Hate and love are separated by a thin line, and the thin line is often made up of equal parts self-loathing and doubt.
Self-loathing and doubt? Could Clinton be experiencing such things? Maybe.
The Able Danger story is suggesting that warnings went unheeded regarding the attack on the USS COLE, and that enormous amounts of documentation – “2.5 terabytes” – as much as one-fourth of all the printed materials in the Library of Congress,” have been destroyed by order of…someone. Witnesses want to testify, the Judiciary committee does not want the testimony to be public.
The story has been buried due to Katrina news and Katrina Bush-blaming, Clinton news and Clinton Bush-blaming, and an unsurprising move by many in the mainstream press to keep the story relagated to page 34 of section B, below the fold. Now, with public hearings set for Wednesday, perhaps all of this verbage from President Clinton is nothing more than a pre-emptive strike – a way to minimize any damage from Able Danger by saying it is all “a spiteful response to Clinton’s measured critiques.” Could be.
But all the misdirection in the world can’t keep a true story of malfeasance, mismanagement and political paralysis from finally breaking the surface, and maybe that – more than anything – accounts for so much that seems sad and crazy and overwrought in American politics, these days.
No one ever said Bill Clinton didn’t know how to get in front of a story, and so maybe all of my theories are nonsense, and Clinton is merely taking evasive action. But I don’t think so. Bill Clinton may be a political animal, but he is still a human one, first and foremost, and a wounded one.
More and more, one cannot help wondering exactly what sort of state secrets Sandy Berger was spiriting out of the National Archives in his pants, and whether those papers had anything to do with Able Danger.
More and more, one cannot help wondering if the an investigation into Pantsgate and Able Danger is something Bill Clinton is jealously thinking of as “one more break for Dubya,” or even worse, a terrible breach of love.
UPDATE: Gateway Pundit has a very impressive lookback at various Clinton quotes and times, and Lorie Byrd is most seriously displeased with President Clinton’s antics, particularly with his very odd pronouncement that we are “losing in Afghanistan.” She has links. Lots of links!