Fri, 18 Aug 2000

Clinton leaves legacy of bland candidates

By Uwe Schmitt

LOS ANGELES (DPA): Hardly any other American president has loved the glamour and dignity of his office so passionately, misappropriated it so negligently or been so loathe to give it up as William Jefferson Clinton.

So insatiable was his longing for recognition that he soaked up all the contempt his Republican adversaries could serve up during the impeachment proceedings against him and turned it into fuel for his unwavering persistence. The highly gifted Baby- Boomer politician who rose above his poor-white-folk origins and a broken family in Hope, Arkansas can dish it out as well as he can take it. America will miss him -- it just doesn't know it yet.

Clinton's rapturously received farewell speech to the delegates at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles on Monday was just the first of many before he finally takes his leave of the Oval Office on Jan. 21, 2001 -- a day he fears like a junkie fears withdrawal. As his speech attested, Bill Clinton is going to do everything in his power between now and January to make sure that -- for the majority of Americans -- nostalgia wins out over relief at finally being rid of the man who brought the country something as unsavory as the Lewinsky scandal.

Whoever succeeds him -- Al Gore or George W. Bush -- will not share with Clinton the dangerous and erotic relationship to power that drove him to abuse his office and to commit perjury. That is one aspect of his presidency the American public certainly will not miss when he is gone.

The president's loyal follower Al Gore has a lot to put up with in the days leading up to the nominating convention in Los Angeles. While the confessions of the repentant sinner in the presence of his personal minister and in front of thousands of believers in Illinois may have been calculated to free his convention speech -- and Al Gore -- from the ballast of scandals in the Clinton White House, they could not have arrived at a worse time for Gore.

Ditto for the flood of millions of dollars in what some political opponents have called "unscrupulous" campaign donations that Bill and Hillary managed to squeeze out of Hollywood in the days preceding the convention. The fast money literally threatened to "steal the show" from Gore, who could never hope to pull off such a stunt himself.

No hint of impeachment or scandal clouded Clinton's brilliant self-eulogy in Los Angeles. He had already declared days ago, after all, that he considered George W. Bush's pledge to bring decency and honor back to the White House a personal attack. But, he added, he did not take it personally, and could not imagine that voters would be so unfair as to punish Vice-President Gore in his place.

You could admire this man for his chutzpah. Most observers couldn't help but be reminded of the legalistic semantics on display at the height of the impeachment proceedings, when Clinton's lawyers -- referring to sex -- asked those present to consider "what the meaning of this word is."

The choruses of "thank you Bill" in Los Angeles have done the parting president the world of good. But he had already experienced the triumph of his political legacy at the Republican convention two weeks ago. Clinton was the model and the genius who inspired the facelift Bush performed on his party in Philadelphia. The Texas governor forced a feeble smile in the direction of America's poor and minorities, just as the governor of Arkansas had done in 1992, when he rammed a marriage of convenience with "desperate" economic leaders down the Democrats' throats.

Vice-President Al Gore would not stand a chance of beating Bush in November had Bill Clinton placed more importance in 1992 -- and especially in 1996 -- on his party's liberal traditions than on winning power. Conversely, Bush's prospects of beating Gore would not look so good, either, had Clinton's lessons not informed the Republicans' new "compassionate conservatism."

Clinton can boast that both the two candidates and their new parties planted squarely in the political center are his creations -- that is Bill Clinton's legacy.