Bill Clinton's My Life II
Bill Long 10/7/06
One of the pleasures of reading political autobiography for me is to come across interesting vignettes, humorous asides and, often, the unexpected prescience shown by a politician. This and the next essay will give examples of each from Bill Clinton's life and politics; I would like to begin with the two prophetic examples which, when I read them, actually stunned me and made me stop reading.
While Clinton was campaigning for the Presidency in 1992, Hurricane Andrew hit Florida. Though it is sometimes difficult for those of us not in hurricane states to remember the names of all the destructive storms to hit the Gulf Coast, I recall Andrew. Clinton says: "I had dealt with a lot of natural disasters as governor (he had been Governor of Arkansas since 1979, except for 1981-83) but I had never seen anything like this" (428). Then, in a comment with an eerie similarity to Katrina in 2005, he said: "I was surprised to hear complaints from both local officials and residents about how the Federal Emergency Management Agency was handing the aftermath of the hurricane." Then, I stopped with amazement when he said:
"Traditionally, the job of FEMA director was given to a political supporter who wanted some plum position but who had had no experience with emergencies. I made a mental note to avoid that mistake if I won...(428)."
Wasn't that precisely the situation after Katrina late in August 2005? In 2003 Presdient Bush had appointed a person to head FEMA, Michael Brown, who not only had no experience in handling disasters but who had been fired in 2001 from his 11-year stint overseeing trial judges and stewards for the Arabian Horse Association. Despite his protestations to the contrary, Brown is widely held responsible for "blowing it" in the wake of Katrina. Clinton published these lines in 2004.
A second observation made by Clinton about the Bush manner of dealing with things occurred also during the 1992 Presidential campaign. George Bush was well behind in the polls in October, and in desperation authorized a searching of Clinton's passport files to see if he had done something "Anti-American" during his two-year sojourn in Oxford as a Rhodes scholar at the height of the Viet Nam war (1968-70). Bush also, in an egregious abuse of power, had Clinton's mother's passport file searched. Clinton comments:
"Of course it was an abuse of power, but a pathetically small one compared with Iran-Contra. It just showed how desperate the Bush people were to hang on to power, and how little they had to offer for America's future" (433).
Though written in 2004, isn't that sentence an accurate description fo what is happening today as I write? Worried about whether the Republicans can keep control of Congress while support of the War in Iraq seems to be flagging, Bush managed to get a few pieces of legislation passed on interrogation of terror suspects that not only would reinforce his "tough on Terrorism" approach but be able to brand his opponents as "weak" on terror. It is a gambit that only a person who was desperate to hang on to power would make--the kind of effort which tries to provoke fear in order to secure support. But it is an indication of how little Bush Junior has to offer for America's future. His domestic agenda, which had a sliver of life in it up until 2004, has completely fallen by the wayside. All that is left is "TERROR." It may work on the voters, though the recent "page scandal" might contribute to the Republicans' decline.
Though a lot of Clinton's book consists of memories that would be very difficult to confute, I caught two mistakes that, for some reason, were missed by the editor. When talking about the fight to derail the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987 (nominated by Reagan to replace Lewis Powell), Clinton mentioned that Bork's tried to give the impression he was a "Moderate" in his testimony before the Judiciary Committee. But his strategy backfired on him. Then, Clinton says, after Bork's nomination foundered and Judge Douglas Ginsburg, Reagan's next nominee, confessed to having smoked marijuana as a grad student, Reagan nominated Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court (337). But this isn't how it worked. Scalia was nominated and confirmed in 1986, and he took William Rehnquist's seat when Rehnquist "moved up" to be Chief Justice after the retirement of Warren Burger. Actually, Anthony Kennedy was Reagan's third choice for the seat vacated by Lewis Powell in 1987, and Kennedy was confirmed in 1988.
I think the Senate was not truly ready to "take on" Scalia in 1986; Reagan had had only one previous appointment (Sandra Day O'Connor in 1981), and she was not a "hard-right" nominee. Senators handled her with "kid gloves" in 1981 for fear that they might be considered sexist. When Scalia came along the Senate Judiciary Committee really wasn't ready to question a "hard core" conservative person. But it was the next year after Powell resigned that the Senate "woke up" to its responsibility; hence the opposition marshalled against Bork. In addition, Bork was an outspoken and very visible conservative, whose many years at Yale had made him a sort of lightning rod for criticism, while Scalia had not made such a polarizing name for himself.
A second mistake occurs a few pages later. After Clinton was elected but before his first term began, Clinton mentioned that his former pastor, W.O.Vaught, died (353). He then reminisced on a conversation he had with Vaught about capital punishment. Vaught told him that the "Greek" behind the biblical commandment "Thou shalt not kill" really meant "Thou shalt not murder." Only thing is, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew...
Let's move to some humor, and then to some stories.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long