Monday, August 29, 2011

Re-nominating Clinton

It's ironic now, when one watches footage from the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago 15 years ago, to see and hear Bill Clinton thanking the delegates for entrusting him with the presidential nomination again.

It's ironic when one realizes that, at that time, Clinton was already involved in the relationship with Monica Lewinsky that would threaten to undermine his second term.

From the perspective of 2011, it's hard to look back at Clinton's second term and not see many ways in which trust was violated — and, as a result, much of a presidency was squandered.

But, on this night in 1996, he was the earnest Bill Clinton I remember from my days in Arkansas. When I lived there, he was defeated in his first bid for re–election, in part because he approved a modest increase in license tag fees.

As I say, the increase was modest, but voters perceived an almost cavalier attitude in Clinton and punished him for it. When he ran for governor the next time around, he publicly apologized to the voters for the increase.

Raising state revenue in the midst of what was then the worst economy since the Depression was necessary, but he still apologized "because so many of you were hurt by it."

Perhaps he didn't realize — or perhaps he chose to ignore — that the decisions elected officials make can influence the voters in many ways — especially those decisions that are intended to be known by only a few people because that is precisely the kind of thing that tends to leak out.

Anyway, as just about anyone old enough to remember the late 1990s will tell you, the revelation of Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky became the foundation of the impeachment charges that paralyzed his presidency.

The — ahem — moral seems clear: If you want your private life to remain private, don't run for office.

It is a reminder, I guess, that elected office — especially the presidency — is a sacred trust. The voters entrust the powers of the presidency to select individuals, and that carries with it certain expectations — of behavior, of policy direction, of a lot of things.

And it's darn near impossible now to listen to Clinton recite his administration's economic accomplishments — i.e., the millions of jobs that were created in his first term — and not feel somewhat wistful after one makes the inevitable mental comparisons to the current economic situation.

Because my roots are in Arkansas, I often feel — justifiably, too, I might add — that I grew up with Bill Clinton. It seemed he was always in office, mostly as governor.

He is quite a bit older than I am, but we both came from small towns in Arkansas (my hometown is considerably larger now, Clinton's is marginally so), and, when he describes his boyhood in his memoir, "My Life," he could be describing mine as well.

After I became old enough to vote, I supported Clinton every time he was on the ballot in the years I lived in Arkansas. Sure, I had heard the stories about his infidelity, but, from what I could see, if there was any truth to the stories, he did a good job of keeping his personal and public lives separate from one another.

No one asked me about Monica Lewinsky in 1996. Nobody had heard her name. That was something that came out after Clinton had been sworn in for a second time.

In 1996, if someone had asked me about Clinton's private life, I would have said that it did not seem to have had any kind of influence on his job performance. I didn't approve of the idea of a president who was unfaithful to his spouse, but I figured that, as long as it didn't affect his job performance, it was not my business.

Going into the Democratic convention in Chicago 15 years ago today, there were some Republicans who complained that the vice president, Al Gore, was too wooden, too stiff — which always struck me as a weak complaint, a nitpicky kind of thing.

The sort of thing one quibbles over when one has no more arrows in one's quiver.

At the convention, Gore poked a little fun at himself, using the enormously popular "Macarena" song to do so.

Because much of the party's platform and other business were addressed ahead of time, the delegates to that convention had little else to do while they waited for the speakers so they danced to the "Macarena." The television cameras showed them dancing on several occasions, and Gore mentioned it during his speech.

Then he pretended to do his version of the "Macarena" — standing perfectly still (only his eyes moved) — and then asked, "Would you like to see it again?"

The crowd roared.

Seldom in modern memory had Democrats gathered for a national convention in such a jovial mood. Certainly, their last convention in Chicago — the one that nominated Hubert Humphrey in 1968 — had not been a pleasant experience.

And why shouldn't they be jovial? Clinton's job approval ratings had been in the 50s most of the year, and all indications were that he would be re–elected.

And he was.

1 comment:

askcherlock said...

Those seem like the good old days in some ways, and in other ways, times, I think are better left in the past. Clinton, for whatever his sins were then, has renewed his credibility and his standing within the country. After G.W., Bill Clinton's faults pale. And gore has also gained a better stature, at least among those of us who do believe there is something to this global warming. Time heals many wounds.