A part of me had hoped to allow Bill Clinton to go away with good riddance and without editorial comment and to simply accept his eight years in our faces as an unfortunate mistake on the part of a large number of well-intentioned people who were duped by the best political con-man of the 20th century. And I have always begrudgingly given credit to Clinton where it is due—his amazing political instincts, his intellect, and his accurate perception of the transforming power of the technology-driven globalization of markets and culture. But the dominant part of me realizes that what we have witnessed is not, unfortunately, a passing fancy.
During the later months of Clinton’s term, a number of prominent talking heads persisted in the notion that nothing Clinton did approached the level of culpability of Richard Nixon. I disagree. Nixon was paranoid, insecure, and darkly neurotic. But Clintonism will prove to have been much more insidious, because it undermines truth and promotes duplicity as a way of public life. It corrupts the process. Clinton perfected the “permanent campaign” and made it an acceptable governing style, and the reasons we will “miss” him are the traits and legacy that make Clintonism so dangerous—the demagoguery, the duplicity, the solipsism, and the innate ability to be the chameleon, to morph into whatever one needs to be to please the immediate audience—a psychologist’s dream!
Clinton has often been described as our first baby boomer President, but more importantly, he was our first postmodern President—the truth is totally situational. As John O’Sullivan has noted, he is a different person for everyone he meets and, in the process, he fulfills every fantasy of the postmodern elites, because they can never repudiate him entirely or permanently. I’d like to think this was an aberration, that Clintonism will pass along with Bill Clinton. I’m not optimistic. The American people gave him a pass; we succumbed to the notion that morality and core principles are manifest only in public policy initiatives, that tolerance is the greatest virtue and that to judge is the greatest sin. “An ignoble moment for a great people”, in Bill Bennett’s words. Quite a few of his former “enablers”, primarily Democrats who no longer need him, have now surfaced to condemn various aspects of his tenure in office. Many have said that this or that transgression “must never happen again”. What must never happen again is to elect as President someone with as deeply flawed character as Bill Clinton. George Will said it best: “he is not the worst President the republic has had, but he is the worst person ever to have been President.”