Jewish World Review April 27, 2004 / 6 Iyar 5764

Paul Greenberg

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HE-E-E'S . . . back! | John Kerry's campaign strategists are worried. No, not about George W. Bush. Goodness, no. But about another rival. The kind of celebrity who sucks all the air out of a room. He appears, and every head swivels his way. He exerts an almost hypnotic attraction on reporters, pundits, political buffs, television cameras, young interns and old nostalgists, haters and lovers and all those in between . . .

I'm talking about Bill Clinton, of course. When he shows up, the Roaring Nineties are back. In color. The bubble hasn't burst, Osama bin Laden is still only a meaningless collection of syllables, and any wars are fought from 10,000 feet. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end.

It's like reversing a DVD. Time is rolled back. Happy Days are here again. It's a September 10th world in perpetuity. All other politicians are reduced to black-and-white.

The effect is as if a genial Warren Harding had reappeared in the hardscrabble Thirties, bringing with him flappers, bathtub gin and the Charleston. How can John Kerry, who even at his happiest moments looks like a bloodhound crashing a party, compete with that?

Presidential contenders learned long ago not to appear on the same platform with Bill Clinton, or even in the same hall or decade. There's no scene he doesn't steal. He delights his friends, drive his enemies crazy and leaves no neutrals. He can make even the most jaded commentator sound fascinated, even obsessed.

When it comes to politicians, you may think you've seen 'em come and you've seen 'em go, but Bill Clinton refuses to go. And now, just in time for the Democratic national convention in July, he's coming out with a book and all the attendant foofaraw. Once again he'll have a half-nelson on the American consciousness.

John Kerry won't stand a chance. Can't you see the caption under their picture when they pose together at the Democratic convention? ("Former President Bill Clinton with unidentified man.")

With any luck - for the Republicans - Bill Clinton's memoirs will hit the newsstands, headlines and television shows the week of the Democratic convention and nobody will notice the convention. Naturally he's late. The book was supposed to be out last year in return for a $10 million advance, but anybody who's ever stood around waiting for Bill Clinton to show up could have told Knopf this would happen. His idea of punctuality is being only a couple of hours behind schedule.

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Bill Clinton's book, or rather the publicity that goes with it, will make the kind of splash that drowns out all other political news. "It'll get a lot of airspace," says John Podesta, his former chief of staff, "and I think it's imperative that happen (before) the convention. Kerry's benefited by having a clear shot, clear airspace, from the convention through November."

But now Bill Clinton could get in the way, and wind up dominating John Kerry's convention the way he did Al Gore's in 2000. This book could be his passport back to fame, or at least the usual notoriety. Not that anybody but reviewers will actually read the whole thing. It'll be the kind of book people open to the index, look for their name and Monica Lewinsky's, and then put back on the shelf. Still, it can't be as unreadable as his earlier one. (What was its title - "From History to Hype"?)

Word is that the book could be as long as 800 pages, which won't surprise anybody who was ever cornered by Bill Clinton at a party - or still has nightmares about being sentenced to listen to his 1988 nominating speech for Michael Dukakis in its awful entirety. (Its big applause line was "In conclusion . . . .")

The book's title hasn't been leaked yet, but this I can tell you: If it accurately reflects Bill Clinton's favorite topic, consuming interest and political career in general, it'll be called "Me."

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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