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A Private Matter
In Dissent, Number
One Hundred and Eleven
by Brian S. Wise
31 May 2003
Sid Blumenthal, his new book, and the Clinton Legacy Reclamation Project.
will be happy to know that the Clinton Legacy Reclamation Project is well
underway. Sid Blumenthal has written (and Farrar, Straus and Giroux
has published) a book about the previous administration, taking no great
pains to explain its scandals. It is entitled The Clinton Wars.
The upshot is that there were only such things as Clinton wars because of
Right wing overreaction, not because they were worth serious consideration.
(Of course.) When publishers and authors want to sell books, they schedule
book tours; Blumenthal ended up on The Big Story three days ago to
be interviewed by guest host Jon Scott. In that one segment, Blumenthal
asserted 1) that Bill Clinton had come in third in a recent poll naming the
greatest presidents ever, and 2) the entire Weinergate mess was entirely
a private matter.
The poll Blumenthal sites, unbelievably, exists. It was taken by Gallup
on April fifth and sixth, plus or minus three percent. Those answering
the call were asked to name the greatest American president. Fifteen
percent picked Abraham Lincoln, 13 percent named John Kennedy, 11 percent
named Bill Clinton and 11 percent named George W. Bush. It reads like
a particularly painful version of “one of these things is not like the others,”
but this is what happens when you ask regular people a question that takes
some historical perspective to answer cogently. (Chris Matthews rather
hilariously suggested Tuesday that anyone answering such a poll question
should first be forced to name 20 presidents.)
John Kennedy is an overrated president and is on the list only because he
was adored (and because he was assassinated). But at least economic
and Cuban missile arguments can be made for Kennedy; none, absolutely none,
can be made for either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush even sniffing the outside
edge of any “greatest president” list. Any open question of great presidents
that does not include at least George Washington, John Adams, either of the
Roosevelts or Thomas Jefferson (first term) is not a serious consideration
of the topic, just a modern popularity contest where just enough Clinton
and Bush lovers got the call to make a difference. The notion that
either of them belong when so many legitimate candidates are ignored represents
an intellectual miscarriage.
Which leaves us with Weinergate, and the world’s heaviest sigh. I swore
I was never going to reference the Clinton sex scandals again unless it was
while making jokes; you can blame Blumenthal for causing the irritation that
lead to the breaking of this promise. Surely he, Blumenthal, understands
the difference between what happens in one’s bedroom (or in his office, or
in the secluded hallway just off his office) and what happens once he takes
an oath to tell the truth in federal grand jury testimony? As the time
has gone by it has become harder and harder to remember, but nowhere in the
four articles of impeachment were either That Fat Pig Monica Lewinsky or
oral sex mentioned. Which means what? That if Clinton had told
the truth instead of being himself (and lying under oath about three dozen
times), perhaps large parts of what ended up being a significant scandal
would never have happened, and he would just have ended up embarrassed.
Nearing the end of the Clinton administration, I was publicly asked rather
I had it inside of me to write a book about the 42d president. I said,
No, for two reasons. The first was that everyone was going to write
that book (and everyone has); the second was that, in general terms, commentators
should not dedicate great amounts of time and energy writing about or discussing
someone more mentally ill than they are themselves. (This is the same
reason I have never written at length about Richard Nixon.) The remark
drew some fire, but it could not be retracted in good conscience. The
Left has profound problems, one of them being that it cannot admit, or knows
but refuses to accept, that there is something seriously the matter with
Bill Clinton, and that something needs to be addressed by someone not named
Kenneth Starr. Preferably someone with a long couch Clinton can lie
on while discussing his life.
Leave it to the trusty old New York Times to provide the voice of
reason (what?!): “Blumenthal’s book may do more to stir old controversies
than settle them. Participants in the Clinton wars would do well to
understand that re-fighting 90s battles will be of less benefit to the country
than detached analysis explaining how we can avoid future unproductive quarrels
over the personal weaknesses of our presidents.” Yes, yes, of course.
Forget that I even brought it up.
Brian S. Wise
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