Jewish World Review Nov. 23, 2004 / 10 Kislev, 5765

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Consumer Reports

Forget about Bubba: Clinton still craves the spotlight, but he's no longer relevant | Our quiz today is a multiple-choice question: What does Bill Clinton want?

A) To guide Democrats out of the deep woods.

B) To help heal the nation's bitter divisions.

C) To pave the way for President Hillary.

The correct answer is all of the above - and none of the above. What Bubba really wants is vindication. Everything else, including Hillary in the Oval Office, is just a means to his end game of getting back on top again. It's all about one more comeback.

It ain't gonna happen.

Clinton's presiding over the opening of his $165 million library looked like a happy trip down memory lane. Surrounded by family, friends and foes, he was the center of attention, the pudgy young pol turned elder statesman.

But behind the facade of generous tributes was the sad spectacle of the once-most powerful man on Earth trying desperately to find his footing on history's rain-slicked ladder. It's a tricky climb, and time is no longer his friend - and not just because of his fragile health.

The world before 9/11 seems like a million years ago. Most of the political lessons he taught us then about the "third way" mean little now. In all the important ways, the future became unhinged from the past. And so the Man from Hope is now the Man from Yesterday.

That's not to say Bill Clinton isn't relevant. He is to the 30,000 devotees who trekked to Arkansas and to the millions who look back with fondness on the first baby boomer President.

And each time his party loses a presidential election, he looks more like a giant. It is shocking to remember that no Democrat since FDR has been elected twice - except Clinton.

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Although he never won a majority of the popular vote, his two terms earned him a permanent spot in what one observer calls the inner circle of the world's most exclusive club.

Still, he wants more. He wants us to think of him as great and to still need him. But he wasn't great. And we don't need him.

It's not just Monica - though she comes to mind first, and the impeachment saga she launched will surely be in the top paragraph of his obit. His dismissing it in the library exhibit under the category of the "politics of persecution" was both tasteless and revealing. Jesus did not fool around with interns.

But even Clinton's achievements of prosperity and peace now look hollow. In hindsight, we know that much of the prosperity was a bubble fueled by venal corporate criminals. And there was peace only because the Clinton White House chose not to see that Osama Bin Laden had already declared war on us.

The yearning for those days is foolish, but probably harmless - except for the Democratic Party. If its leaders look to Clinton for anything other than a pep talk, they are courting disaster.

American politics, like everything else, changed on 9/11. As the last election proved, the game is no longer about traditional standards of interest groups and issue positions. Biography, charisma and the polish of education matter far less than they did just four years ago.

The new gold standard is at once more elusive and more precise. For every would-be leader, the test is this: Are you rock-solid? Those who cannot say yes, and convince voters, need not apply. Weakness, waffling, nuance, process - they're luxuries from a bygone era.

And for G-d's sake, no more parsing and blurring. It's a gut-check world now, and half-truths are no longer half true. They're damnable lies.

Bubba had his run. His time, and times, have passed. He isn't ready to accept that, but we must. The future demands it.

Michael Goodwin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Daily News Comment by clicking here.


11/18/04: Prez, by ignoring race, makes racial history
11/08/04: Bush won — get used to it
10/29/04: This isn't an election, it's a living nightmare
10/27/04: Why Teresa Heinz Kerry is such a flake
10/14/04: Kerry's scary on terrorism: Unchanged by 9/11, he says, and no real ideas about what to do
10/05/04: The Big Mo still looking for its lover
09/28/04: What we're up against: The war on terror & the war in Iraq are now one and the same
09/14/04: Media bias is doing nation a disservice
08/18/04: Kerry confusion will soon be unforgivable
07/29/04: Why are the wackadoos still dear to Dems' hearts?
07/21/04: Kerry couldn't say no: Hillary waffle was just part of a wimpy week

© 2004, New York Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.