Jewish World Review July 9, 2002 / 29 Tamuz, 5762

Paul Greenberg

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HE-E-E'S BACK! | Who says Bill Clinton isn't still making history? He's just had an article/essay/speech published in the Arkansas Law Review, the scholarly quarterly put out by the University of Arkansas' law school at Fayetteville.

How many other lawyers barred from practicing for five years in their home state -- and also stripped of their license to argue before the Supreme Court of the United States -- have been invited to adorn a law journal? It's the equivalent of a Mafia don writing the lead article in some law enforcement journal.

This has got to be some kind of record. Yes, Richard Nixon began writing foreign-affairs thumbsuckers a few years into his decades-long self-rehabilitation, but did he ever appear in a law journal after surrendering his license? If not, Bill Clinton might finally have beaten Dick Nixon to some shameless display.

It may have been Mark Twain who said that, for connoisseurs of irony, American politics is a veritable banquet. This latest delicacy served up by the Arkansas Law Review will be hard to beat, at least till William J. Clinton collects his first honorary doctor of laws. Which should be any day now, considering the standards of American academe and law, now in a close race to the bottom with American accounting.

The ex-president's appearance between the covers of a law review offers an insight not just into American politics but American fashion and folkways unmatched since the Godfather movies. It ranks right down there with the former president's being invited to give the principal address at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association shortly after he was found in contempt of court.

He beat out Dick Nixon in that department, too. The ABA pointedly snubbed The Honorable Mr. Nixon back in his Watergated time (1973-74). Not only didn't it invite him to speak, but it recommended that every lawyer in the Nixon Gang (and there were quite a few) be disciplined. The ABA had standards then.

In the movie "Hud," the old man, played so beautifully by Melvyn Douglas, says you can tell the way the country is going by the kind of man it produces. You can also tell the way a profession is going by the kind of man it chooses to honor. "It was just an honor and a thrill," explained Erron Smith, 24, the law review's editor-in-chief, "to have a former president of the United States write on an issue of such international importance." Bill Clinton has still got some of us snowed, and the younger, the more snowable.

Actually, a piece by Bill Clinton on the law and how to get around it might have been of considerable interest. Much like a piece by Willie Sutton in a banking journal. It would have had a True Confessions kind of appeal.

But those turning to The Talented Mr. Clinton's article hoping it would provide some insight into the mind of a serial liar and how he got away with it ("The Finer Points of Perjury and How to Barely Avoid It, Maybe") will be disappointed.

Instead we get the perfect soporific, beginning with the academic title, complete with matching platitudes linked by a colon: "Progress and Paradox: The Realities of Globalization in the Twenty-First Century." (Feel a yawn coming on?) I'm going to keep a copy of this article on my bedside table -- in case Charlie Rose doesn't work.

The text is equally thrilling, falling halfway between a warmed-over campaign speech ("In my administration, we tripled America's assistance to countries around the world to fight AIDS .") and some perfunctory attempts at timeliness, which consist of dragging in the subject of terrorism whether applicable or not. For example, AIDS must be wiped out lest it "give us toppled democracies and young HIV positive mercenaries and terrorists who think they don't have long to live and nothing to live for."

I don't know how he does it. This essay manages to be dull, unoriginal and strange all at the same time. Surely you've got to try to write this badly. I don't think I've seen prose this, well, prosaic since I was a teaching assistant grading papers at Columbia.

But this issue of the review isn't without humor, if of the unconscious variety. For example, on the page before Bill Clinton's article, there is a quote from the founders of the law review: "[It] is the determination of the Editorial Board to publish a creditable law journal, useful to the lawyers and law students of the state, and to publish no issue of the Review that does not conform to this standard." Don't you know they'd be proud?

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