Politics & Policy

My Life in Spin

Bill Clinton begins his book tour.

In this sense, Sunday night’s 6O Minutes hour could not have helped Bill Clinton: Here’s a guy who desperately doesn’t want to be defined by impeachment, but the bulk of the program was taken up by impeachment and his conduct that led to it.

Here is some quick reaction: First of all, the interview reminded me of how Clinton has a real winsome way about him. I know he drives some conservatives nuts (especially with mannerisms like those pursed lips when he said how much he hates the nickname “Slick Willie”), but there is a reason he always thought he could talk his way out of any problem.

All the childhood stuff also sets conservatives teeth on edge, but it is all true. No, it doesn’t excuse anything, but as Clinton said last night, it does explain a lot. The fact is that Clinton is a very weird man with quite serious “issues,” to use the jargon, and that affected his presidency in many ways–from his odd secret relationship with Dick Morris, to his desperate need for approval in the polls, to his fling with Monica Lewinsky, and so on.

He was smart last night to say at some point that he didn’t want to talk about his personal life anymore besides Monica, since he can’t tell the truth about any of the other women. He can be relatively forthright about Monica (although I doubt he comes clean in his book about when their relationship started–well before they were “friends”), since he had already been forced to confess before by the stain on her dress. But it would be too painful and too embarrassing to his supporters to admit that something like what Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey described actually happened–as it almost certainly did.

Indeed, Clinton’s explanation of why he carried on with Monica–”because I could”–sheds light on his M.O. How do you find out if you can or not? You push yourself on a woman very aggressively. It just happened that with Jones and Willey he “couldn’t,” although he certainly tried.

What he said about Hillary last night was inadvertently revealing. He said of that famous Gennifer Flowers interview on 60 Minutes that Hillary (these quotes are rough) “opposed what was going on.” Indeed, she did. She always opposed Clinton getting called on any of his conduct with women. Why? Clinton gave the answer. She thought it was “all about power.” Indeed, it was: If she had ever not stood by him and helped attack the women he had been involved with, the Clintons never would have gotten power.

For someone who has supposedly come clean, Clinton still blames others for his difficulties, arguing that it was outrageous that anyone would have impeached him for his lies. As I put it in Legacy: “Let’s concede that sexual harassment law is too broad and that the Jones suit was quite weak, that ideally there shouldn’t have been an independent counsel waiting to pounce on Clinton’s crimes, that a pair of conservative lawyers gave legal advice to the Jones team with the ulterior purpose of harming the president, and that Linda Tripp wasn’t very nice to Monica Lewinsky or very honest–that still leaves the fact that Bill Clinton, the president of the United States, had sex with an intern, perjured himself about it, suborned the perjury of someone else, and obstructed justice. What were House Republicans supposed to do with these alleged high crimes and misdemeanors of the president? Ignore them?”

The fact is that nearly everyone agreed on the need for the House to undertake an impeachment inquiry. Thirty-one Democrats voted for the Republican inquiry plan, and the rest voted for an alternative Democratic plan. Anyway, that’s an argument for a different time.

What was clear from last night is that Clinton is ready to be forthright on only those things where he has no choice–i.e., Monica because of her stained dress. He told Dan Rather that no one has yet made to him the case that the Marc Rich pardon was the wrong thing to do on the merits. Come on! The guy was an international fugitive.

Alas, the New Bill Clinton–same as the Old Bill Clinton.


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