19 August 2007
Happy Birthday Bill
Today, Bill Clinton is 61. He's been out of office for six years and he's still younger than about 20% of the presidents were on the day they were first sworn into office.
I know of no president in my voting life (since 1978) who has been more gifted at the two essential dimensions of politics: people and policy. The man was a wonk and I remember feeling such a huge relief when he campaigned, thinking, "Yes. This guy has not only read books on economic policy, he's taken them seriously." I remember feeling so vindicated when his policies led to prosperity and a balanced budget. I rather naively thought that his presidency would settle a number of issues that have, instead, come back like the character in a horror movie that won't die. And as much as he was ridiculed for it, I think it was true that the man "felt your pain." He obviously loved people and policy and to this day I don't know whether to be more amazed by the fact that he so uniquely did both, or that so many presidents haven't.
It's worth remembering that the man was a hairdresser's son. I think it was during his speech at the first Democratic convention (second?) when he introduced his mother and she, flustered, proud, and uncertain, stood to wave at the cheering crowd. As she sat back down, the poor dear missed her seat and landed, clumsily, on the ground. That moment reinforced the fact that Bill was not a part of Washington’s aristocracy.
And I honestly think that this is one of the reasons that the man was so hated in DC. He didn't have the decency to come from a family that had already established itself in Washington, as Bush or Gore had. His success could well be construed as fodder for the dreams of any pedunk punk who actually believes the nonsense about anyone being able to "grow up to be president." For all of Clinton's political genius, he does seem like the wonder kid too clueless to realize that he's not actually supposed to be president in spite of his pedestrian, working class background.
I'm still a fan of Bill Clinton. He gave a great speech, crafted smart policy, and seemed legitimately interested in Americans. I've consistently felt frustrated with the pronouncements and results flowing from the White House, from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush. Clinton was the one exception to this and, for me, proof that I am not impossible to please.
There is something else about Bill. I do believe that he did a great job as president. I don't, though, believe that he's unique among 300 million Americans. For me, one of the best things about Bill Clinton is not that he's exceptional but, rather, the idea that he's representative of a certain percentage of the American people. Call me naive, but I still can't see why we don't have the choice between, say, three or four candidates in each election who are as talented as Bill Clinton. Until we have a political system that regularly offers us such talent, we have a system that needs improvement.