Commentary: Time for Bill Clinton to go away

Why doesn’t he just go away? He has had his moment in history, he has done his work, he has won the applause and borne the calumny…can’t he just leave?

Bill Clinton won’t, of course. Perhaps taking a page from his old foe Newt Gingrich, Clinton is now trying his hand at schlock fiction. His new book, co-written with James Patterson, is called “The President is Missing.” Would that it were true. But once again, Bill Clinton is everywhere.

Clinton says, in Clintonian fashion, that the titular president of his book is not based on him. “We didn’t design it to be me,” William Jefferson Clinton told CBS’ Mo Rocca of his protagonist, Jonathan Lincoln Duncan, who in the book is staring down impeachment proceedings while going undercover to foil a terrorist plot.

“The transfiguration of William Jefferson Clinton into Jonathan Lincoln Duncan should be studied in psych departments for years,” The Washington Post writes in its lukewarm review of the novel. “Both men lost their fathers early and rose from hardscrabble circumstances to become governors. Both men met their brilliant wives in law school, and both couples have one daughter.”

The key difference between Duncan and Clinton, the Post notes, is that the fictional one is a decorated veteran, while the real life president ducked service in Vietnam. There’s also this detail: “[R]ather than being the subject of innumerable rumors about extramarital affairs, Duncan was wholly devoted to his late wife and now lives in apparent celibacy.”

So Duncan is basically Bill Clinton except he’s a rugged veteran with a dead wife who moonlights as an action hero. Also, he never has sex. This is the alternate history version of himself that Clinton has conjured up: Just like the man himself, only tougher, and without the lechery.

Is lechery is too kind a word? In reality, he was a predator, who survived and prospered like so many of his kind in the 1990s. Back then, making a big deal of Clinton’s infidelities was portrayed as nothing more than sexual puritanism. The investigations into Clinton’s appetites, which the liberal commentariat of the time argued were perfectly normal and even healthy, was compared by no less than Arthur Miller to the witch hunts of the 17th century.

“Witch hunt” has a different connotation today, what with our funhouse mirror vision of the Clinton presidency that Donald Trump has given us. Trump has his own history of awful, predatory behavior toward women, but the Democrats realized too late that Hillary Clinton was not the best person they had to make the moralistic case against him. If you spent the 1990s arguing that what Clinton did was the ordinary foibles of an all-too-human president, it’s hard to argue that Trump’s own grossness makes him unfit to serve.

As Business Insider’s Josh Barro has convincingly argued, the Clintons also normalized the casual corruption that Trump and his family so gleefully indulge in. Democrats, believing that it was necessary to defend the Clintons at all costs, not only excused their extensive financial conflicts of interests, but insisted that people who found them to be lacking in the ethics department did not understand that this is how politics works, and has always worked.

But Bill Clinton, it has been said, lacks whatever gene it is that produces shame in normal humans. He may understand that his presidency would have been easier if he had restrained himself, but when Monica Lewinsky came up during his Monday interview with NBC’s Today, he quickly became his defensive, evasive, self-pitying self.

“Do you think President Kennedy should have resigned?” he asked the interviewer. “Do you think President Johnson should have resigned?” It’s the same old defense they always deploy: everyone does it, so why pick on the Clintons? The “Today” segment was far from a grilling of the man very credibly accused of rape by Juanita Broaddrick – her name and allegation went unmentioned. Still, Clinton appeared upset, even indignant, by the line of questioning.

Certain in his mind that he is the real victim of his affair with Lewinsky, he will never ask for redemption or personally apologize for his part in the hell she went through. He wishes it was still the 1990s, when he got a free pass, but he wants you to know just how much he welcomes the #MeToo movement. He wants you to buy his book and reminisce with him about the good times, and hopes that you’ll allow him to reimagine them ever so slightly.

A better Bill Clinton would not be out hawking beach reads right now. He’d be on his knees cleaning a toilet with a toothbrush in a shelter, which is how John Profumo spent much of his later life.

Profumo, the British secretary of war under Prime Minister Harold MacMillan, became synonymous with sex scandals when Clinton was still in high school. He’d had an affair with a London escort whose clientele included the top Soviet spy in the U.K. at the time, and then lied about it to the House of Commons. The resulting scandal led to fall of MacMillan’s government, and Profumo spent the rest of his life humbled and doing good works in obscurity.

This is more than we can expect for the best of our disgraced politicians, let alone Bill Clinton. But failing that, he could do us all a favor, particularly his fellow liberals, and just disappear. 

Categories: Government & Politics

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