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Friday, January 19, 2001

O my gracious heavenly sakes alive! Look at that date! It's the last day of the Clinton Era.

What an interesting eight years it's been, too. The country has been in the hands of a larger-than-life figure, a man whose flaws often overshadowed his talent, and whose ambition sometimes got in the way of his agenda.

But Bill Clinton is a president with presence. He can speak to a political rally and rouse the world to his cause, or he can whisper into the camera's eye and make each viewer believe he knows and understands them.

His leadership in a crisis is unmatched, a triumph of intelligent grasp of the issues along with the compelling stature and charismatic style needed to unite the country behind him. When he needed to be, he was president of all the people, even those who resented, mistrusted or vilified him.

He is absolutely the most dynamic political figure of my lifetime, including John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. The only other politician who comes close, in my mind, is Bobby Kennedy, who was cut down before he could realize the dream.

It's just too bad that so many of Clinton's crises were of his own making. Not all of them, by any means, including the political ones. But far too many for him to have fulfilled his own promise, to the degree his intellect should have allowed. All that brilliance, but so often lacking in wisdom.

How much greater his list of accomplishments could have been, if only he had been able to control his own appetites. His biggest failing lies not in those sins he committed in private, but in the fact that he gave his enemies ammunition to use against him, to tie up the government in search of more evidence and in endless finger-pointing and recrimination.

He torpedoed his own legacy by weakening himself and diminishing the office.

Even our greatest presidents have had flaws, many of them more serious than Clinton's. Those presidents, though, didn't live in a period when their every action and every utterance was so instantaneously reported and so closely scrutinized. Roosevelt and Kennedy were given a pass by the media, and their dalliances became irrelevant to their performance in office.

The tabloid mentality of the modern age, I'm afraid, dooms us to the bland, the safe, the solid but uninspiring citizen. Just look at who our choices were in the 2000 election for evidence of this. We're unlikely, for better or worse, to see the like of Bill Clinton in the White House soon again.

This is what I wrote on November 4, 1992, the day after Clinton was elected:

It's only the second time in my life that I've voted for a presidential candidate who won. That may be part of the reason, but I sense a genuine feeling of renewed hope. One thing that is certain is that more Americans voted than in any previous election. Bill Clinton and Ross Perot have brought many people into the system, and the success of so many women and minority candidates has reenergized the process. The Clinton administration will be an inclusive one, and the face of government will at last be the face of America. A successful coalition and a symbiotic relationship are the attributes that have made the Republicans winners for over a decade; now those are the key ingredients of the new Democratic party.

On inauguration day in 1993, I wrote mostly about the weather.

I'm always hopeful, even now with a new president that I didn't vote for about to take office. I'm hopeful that partisanship will be secondary to the country's best interests. I'm hopeful that individual differences will be honored and diversity respected. I'm hopeful that the new administration will be up to any crises that come its way.

But I'm going to keep an eye on them. You can't be too vigilant. Some who voted for George W. Bush did so because they believed he would turn his back on those whose voices aren't amplified by money and power. We can hope this isn't so, but we can't trust in that hope and then turn away ourselves. I'll applaud whatever good our new president does, and call him on it when he falls short.

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Latest recommendations:

Saundra, Headspace, January 18, Playground. Hear, hear. (Or is that "Here, here"? I'd better check.)

Heather, more.than.this, entry for January 18. Good luck, Heather and Mike!

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Why not think about times to come,
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