Politics & Policy

Give Billy His Tv Show

Clinton as talk-show host.

Not since Buddy died under mysterious circumstances (“Did he smell too much?”) have we had so many opportunities to make fun of the former president. Everyone’s got an idea for what it should be called: The XXX-Files, West Schwiiiiing!, etc. Rush Limbaugh thinks the tagline should be “A No Stain Zone.” The Washington Post’s Lloyd Grove offers “Who Wants to Be a Pardonee?” Poke around the web like Bill Clinton at a women’s college job fair, and you can find dozens more: Crouching Intern, Hidden Cigar, To Tell a Lie, etc., etc.

Amidst all the tittering there’s also a lot of outrage. How dare he! The man has no shame! Will our long national nightmare ever end?!? This seems to be the sentiment of lots of the folks at Lucianne.com, for example, and in my own e-mail box.

Now, I’m one of those guys who normally thinks there can never be enough outrage over Clinton. But I don’t get it. I think it would be a wonderful thing for Bill Clinton to get a TV show.

Okay, one caveat. I can understand if you’re simply sick of him. If you’re tired of the lip-biting and the poor-me stuff, then fine. I guess I’m with you.

But what I’m talking about is if you’re serious in your Clinton-hating. If it’s not just some faddish reaction that over time fades away to only mild contempt or even — gasp — sneaking aspiration. If you really think he was a white-trash messiah preening at his own reflection in a pool of fried-chicken grease — then why wouldn’t you want him to be on TV all the time?

Seriously, whenever Bill Clinton was allowed to speak freely in a relaxed setting, or when he was caught off-guard, he made a fool of himself. He was so compelled to please whoever was listening to him, he’d say whatever they wanted to hear with seemingly unparalleled conviction.

Just a few quick examples off the top of my head: When asked how he’d vote on the Gulf War, he said he agreed with the minority but would have voted the majority. He said, “I have vivid and painful memories of black churches being burned in my own state when I was a child” when, of course, no such events — vivid or otherwise — transpired in Arkansas when he was a kid. When he visited the Greeks he told them that he agreed with them, they should get the Elgin marbles back from Britain. When in Israel, he said he had had a “profoundly emotional experience” of meeting “some little children whose fathers had been killed in conflict with Palestinians” — even though he never met with such children.

From when he said he’d faithfully defend the Constitution, nine years ago, to when he told a bunch of kids at Georgetown that America was simply paying for the Crusades, last winter, Bill Clinton says bizarre and deceitful things because Bill Clinton is bizarre and deceitful.

By the way, contrast this with, for example, the liberal fixation on “Bushisms” — the mangled malapropisms of Bush-speak. There’s no defending against the accusation that President Bush occasionally butchers the English language more than a New York cabbie. But how far does that take you? People know what he means and, more importantly, that he means what he says. But for some reason the Slate types (their new editor Jake Weisberg collects “Bushisms”) believe that Bush’s inability to articulate precisely what he believes is somehow more damning than Bill Clinton’s genius at articulating things he doesn’t believe. Better to have a clarity of expression of one’s moral confusion, says Ivy League liberalism, than to have confusion of expression of one’s moral clarity.

Anyway, that’s a fight for another day. Back to Bill Clinton: host of “Press the Meat.” First of all, Peggy Noonan is right. He’s too lazy to do a daily TV show of any kind. It’s just too much work.

So, what if he does it? Well, the most likely scenario is that he’d do a weekly Charlie Rose-type show, with big-name eggheads and authors. Of course, the assumption here is that Bill would shut up long enough to let Sean Wilentz or Douglas Brinkley tell him how great he is. His producers would have to yell in his ear that he needs to let the guests talk, which would result in his trademarked self-deprecation, “Enough about me, what do you think of me?”

But let’s assume that’s possible. If he had serious people on, talking about serious things, I can guarantee you that Clinton would get himself into trouble almost every week. He’d be telling Noam Chomsky that he stands shoulder to shoulder with him about the evils of corporate fascism, only to return the following week to declare that there’s not an inch of daylight between him and Milton Friedman.

Now, if it’s a daytime Oprah-style thing, as some people are reporting, he will either be very good or very bad at it. If he’s very good — weeping at dyslexic kids who can’t take the SAT in the allotted time, getting outraged over husbands who leave the toilet seat up — people won’t say, “Dang! this guy really was a great president!” They’ll say, “Dang, he should have been doing this all along!” Which is something even the most committed Clinton foe can agree with wholeheartedly.

In fact, I’m perfectly comfortable saying that Bill Clinton has what it takes to make a great TV host if he’s willing to put in the effort. He’s a smart guy; he’s a good talker; he fakes sincerity better than Paul Begala, Bill Press, Sam Donaldson, and Geraldo Rivera combined; and, oh yeah, he has important hair. He’s certainly less self-absorbed than, say, Bill Maher, and he’s probably funnier too.

Indeed, it’s a mistake to assume that someone who made a bad president would necessarily be bad at other things. All the talk about how Clinton was “neither above the law nor below the law” and how “if they can do this to the president they can do this to anyone,” always missed the fundamental point. Nobody would do “this” (whatever “this” was) to anyone but the president, because the president isn’t like anybody else. He should be held to a higher standard. Clinton may not have met the standards of a good president, but it’s unfair to him to say he doesn’t meet the far lower standards of a daytime talk-show host.

And, besides, I could be wrong. He might be terrible at it. He might get bogged down trying to make housewives understand that the Blue Light Special at K-Mart is really the culmination of the globalization process set forth by his administration. He might become obsessed with defending his presidency as a bulwark against Newt Gingrich’s hordes, while most of the people in the audience are saying “Newt who?”

And if that happens, there’s plenty of upside there. First, he’ll be canceled. But, even better, such a debacle will underscore the true lesson of his presidency: that it was all about him. So let him have his “Me-Watch.” It might even be worth tuning in to.


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