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Jewish World Review /Dec. 1, 1998 / 12 Kislev, 5759

Roger Simon

Roger Simon Bubba's brilliance

WASHINGTON -- I often have trouble remembering names. I see a person on the street whom I know I know, but I can't remember his name.

This would make me a terrible politician.

Most successful politicians have prodigious memories. They can remember names, when they last met the person, what they talked about and so on.

Bill Clinton has long been famed for having such a memory.

In September 1996, working a rope line in Longview, Texas, he came across Annette Robinson of Arkansas, who told Clinton that he had spoken at her school when she was a student 20 years before.

Immediately, Clinton not only recalled the speech and details about the school but also the name of Robinson's teacher!

George Stephanopoulos, Clinton's former chief aide, used to marvel at Clinton's feats of memory not only of important events but of minutiae.

"He always knows how many times he's been to a city since he's been president," Stephanopoulos said. "It just always blows me away."

Not anymore.

At a press conference on March 7, 1997, Clinton's memory suddenly failed him.

He was asked if he remembered dialing for dollars from the Oval Office, asking Democratic fat cats to contribute money to the Democratic Party.

"I don't want to flat out say I never did something that I might in fact have done just because I don't remember it," Clinton said.

In other words, Clinton could remember a schoolteacher's name from 20 years before, but he could not remember 16 months after the fact whether he called August Busch IV in November 1995 to ask for $100,000. (Busch certainly seems to have gotten a tickle from somebody: Two weeks later, Anheuser-Busch contributed $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee.) Last Friday, I sat at my desk going over Clinton's answers to the 81 questions posed to him by the House Judiciary Committee, which is considering his impeachment.

Every one of the committee's questions began: "Do you admit or deny that ... "

The committee clearly wanted yes or no answers in return, but Clinton did not feel like playing that game.

His answers were sometimes circuitous and often cited his previous circuitous answers.

Clinton only had one obligation when it came to the committee's questions: to answer truthfully.

In preparing clients for trial or for depositions, lawyers often tell their clients to answer truthfully but not to help the other side by telling more than is asked.

"If they ask you for your name," the lawyers say, "don't tell them your address, too."

What does disturb me, however, is the rapid decline of Clinton's memory.

He is only 52 years old and only two years older than when his memory was razor sharp, but what has happened to him is astonishing.

On page after page, Clinton replies: "I do not recall ... " or "I do not know ... " or "I don't have a memory of it ... "

By my count, such phrases appear at least 15 times in Clinton's 24-page response.

Clinton cannot remember a number of events that occurred last year or early this year, including a critical conversation he had with his personal secretary, Betty Currie, after Clinton first learned that lawyers for Paula Jones knew about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

That conversation goes to the heart of whether Clinton encouraged others to lie and whether he obstructed justice. Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr believes that the questions and statements Clinton made to Currie were his way of coaching her as to how she should later testify. (Though she had not been subpoenaed for anything at the time.)

According to Currie's grand jury testimony, the president said: "You were always there when she was there, right?" "We were never really alone." "You could see and hear everything." "Monica came on to me, and I never touched her, right?" and "She wanted to have sex with me, and I couldn't do that."

Clinton, who previously testified that he was "highly agitated" when he talked to Currie, said in his responses Friday: "When I met with Ms. Currie, I believe that I asked her certain questions, in an effort to get as much information as quickly as I could, and made certain statements, although I do not remember exactly what I said."

Clinton could, however, remember exactly what he said when Currie later told him she was going to have to testify before a grand jury.

"I told Ms. Currie, 'Just relax, go in there, and tell the truth,'" Clinton said.

Which is the funny thing about memory. It can come and go.


11/24/98: See Bubba run; Run, Bubba, run
11/20/98: Lost in Japan
11/17/98: Saddam will strike because we did not
11/12/98: Too bad we can't just blow Saddam away
11/10/98: Will the Republicans ever learn?
11/05/98: Monica? Monica who?
11/03/98: Telling the truth about journalists
10/30/98: The vanishing president
10/27/98:Bubba's last hurrah?
10/23/98: Podesta is used to cleaning toilets
10/15/98: Glenn will once again be an American original
9/24/98: The greatest political actor of our time
9/17/98: Bubba's 'weasel words' --only a partial list (There's only 24 hours in a day)
9/17/98: Hah, I told ya so!
9/08/98: Orthodox Jew Lieberman's moral outrage: Why religion matters in politics
9/04/98: Bubbasky
8/27/98: Cigars?
8/25/98: Why it's all-Lewinsky-all-day-all-night
8/21/98: From magnifying glass to microscope
8/19/98: Let's be blunt: Bubba really needs a shrink --- and fast!
8/13/98: At home, with real, live FOBs
8/11/98: Bubba's new secret weapon: the Marine Band
8/07/98: Has the presidency been reduced to a 'Leno' joke?
8/05/98: Tell the truth?
7/30/98: All ya need is luv...and to deny, deny, deny
7/28/98: 'Man-of-da-people,' huh?
7/23/98: Can frequent-flyer miles alone earn Bubba a Nobel Prize?
7/21/98: San Francisco: not only 'gay,' but happy
7/17/98: Why Bubba claims Y2K is US' biggest problem
7/14/98: Close Amtrak --- PLEASE!
7/9/98: Flag burning is for nuts!
7/7/98: Forget about his legal defense fund, buy Bubba shirts!
7/1/98: Wall-nuts
6/26/98: Perks and the press
6/23/98: There's a good reason Bubba wants gun-control...
6/19/98: Why Clinton can get away with going to Tiananmen Square
6/16/98: Maybe Big Brother ain't so bad after all
6/11/98: He claimed responsibility for Rwanda, so why isn't Bubba stopping Serbian genocide?
6/9/98: The Internet president?
6/4/98: You can call me ‘slick;' and you can call me ‘sick;' but never call me ‘Dick' .... as in Nixon, that is
6/2/98: Being a 'talkin'-head' is hard work
5/29/98 Pay the pol, pick the policy
5/27/98 A 'loo' in London
5/21/98Buba is back from Europe ... but what did he accomplish?
5/18/98Roses for Buba
5/12/98: Just who is "Mr. Republican" these days?"
5/7/98:"Why Clinton keeeps "going and going and going""
5/1/98:"Bubba v. Tabacka"
4/29/98:"You may ask, but should they tell?"
4/24/98:"McCurry and the kids from the ‘hood "
4/23/98: "NOW" should change its name to "THEN"
4/20/98: Freedom to be a jerk?
4/14/98: Bill is Hef's kinda guy
4/7/98: South African memories --- and a paradise not yet found
3/24/98: Bill's 12-day safari
3/20/98: Peace for Ireland?
3/18/98: Flat tire? Spare me
3/13/98: Latrell Sprewell's genius
3/10/98: On truth and reality
3/5/98: No, I'm not harrassing Hillary
3/3/98: The Unforgettable Henny Youngman
2/26/98: Grow up, boys!
2/24/98: Go get 'em, Bill!
2/19/98: My 15 minutes
2/17/98: The manic-depressive presidency
2/12/98: Drip, Drip, Drip
2/10/98: Clinton tunes out the networks
2/5/98: The flight of the Beast: America's love-hate relationship with scandal
2/3/98: Speaking Clintonese
1/29/98: What the president has going for him
1/27/98: Judgment call: how Americans view President Clinton
1/22/98: Bimbo eruptions past and present
1/20/98: Feeding the beast: Paula Jones gets the full O.J.
1/15/98: Let's get it over with: it's time to deal with Saddam, already
1/13/98: Sonny Bono is dead, let the good times roll
1/8/98: Carribbean Cheesecake: First couple has cake, eats cake
1/6/98: PO'ed: a suspected druggie jumps through the employment hoops
1/1/98: Cures for that holiday hangover
12/30/97: Buy stuff now
12/25/97: Peace to all squirrelkind
12/23/97: Home for the Holidays: Where John Hinckley, never convicted, will not be
12/18/97: Bill's B-list Bacchanalia: Press and politicos get cozy, to a point
12/16/97: All dressed up... (White House flack Mike McCurry speculates on his next career)

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.