Saving Private Clinton

As the casualties mount, our Commander-in-Chief soldiers on

Clinton's omission can't have been out of tact, since he not only had Gore issue a crass reminder of how well the country is doing but trotted out his standard issues— saving Social Security, education, etc.— in what sounded uncannily like a campaign speech. Indeed, that was my first explanation for his strangely unchastened manner: that he was back in the campaign mode he prefers to all others. But the more I tried to get a fix on his attitude— and it's not like we have any comparisons to tell us how a president who's just been impeached should act, but this didn't quite seem to be it— the more the unexpected word that floated up was triumphant. If this was a campaign, it was one Clinton believed he'd already won. I think he may have guessed the same thing I suspect: Impeachment is the best thing that's ever happened to him.

For six years now, he's put us through the damnedest movie: Saving Private Clinton. Ever since the beach-storming of the 1992 election, his supporters— led by their mysterious captain— have sacrificed themselves to rescue him. It's been a massacre: kapow! There goes Lani Guinier. Bang! That's Webster Hubbell, falling on that grenade. Rat-a-tat-tat— there goes welfare! They haven't even known why they're doing it, but their mysterious captain has urged them on; theirs is not to reason why. (George Stephanopoulos is the finky Jeremy Davies character here, I think.) Finally, we've reached the climax: the Panzers coming on, explosions everywhere, the whole shebang. The mysterious captain, with her dying breath— of course, it's Hillary; whadja expect, Jesse Jackson?— turns to Private Clinton: "Earn it." And we all know that what he really says, cupping his ear and biting his lower lip, in the scene Spielberg left out, is: "I'm sorry— burn what? The Rose Firm records? Are there tapes?"

In fact, he hasn't earned it. But thanks to Kenneth Starr and the GOP wolves at Clinton's heels, that's not the version that will go down in the history books. Instead, this asshole is about to become legendary— not for his record of spotty accomplishments and ugly betrayals, not for his sins and scandals, not even as the Great Prevaricator. He's going to be the Man They Couldn't Lynch. If they succeed, the fairy tales about the tragedy of his thwarted greatness will put to shame the Camelot myths about the splendid, courageous, liberal things that cautious, canny, sail-trimming John F. Kennedy would have done if he'd lived— and unlike Kennedy, Clinton himself will be around to burnish them. But if the Senate doesn't convict him, he'll be a demigod. The public will adore him for doing what they wish JFK had done: survive his own assassination.

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