- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2001

In eight days, covering Bill Clinton will become optional, an extracurricular exercise depending on the man's entertainment value and a reporter's free time. Even now, his final antics from reckless brinkmanship in the Middle East for the sake of one more hasty handshake in the Rose Garden (the last few have been so meaningful), to his "that'll fix him" license-plate-swap that leaves the new president's car sloganeering for D.C. statehood more closely resemble the class punk flailing for attention than the faithful statesman preparing hopefully, even self-consciously for the long view of history. At this point, the best thing to do probably is ignore him.

Then again, he is, as his aides must keep reminding him, the president. As Mr. Clinton said when, on the day before Linda Chavez withdrew her nomination to be labor secretary, he addressed an audience of anti-Chavez union officials, "I have all these jokes I want to tell" jokes about Mrs. Chavez, that is "and my staff told me I could not tell any of them. They think, you know, I have to assume the appropriate role for a former president and I cannot say any of the things that I want to say, which would leave you howling in the aisles and the only thing that could get me a headline in my increasing irrelevancy from our friends in the press."

Touching, if not somewhat incoherent, isn't it? But just by sniping about not sniping at the troubled nomination of Mrs. Chavez generated some headlines for Mr. Clinton. Which likely made the man look deep into his soul as he so frequently does and wonder: "Why, when I never, you know, assumed the appropriate role of a president, should I now, you know, assume the appropriate role of a former president?" Why, indeed? The logic is inescapable. And so, for the better part of a week, Mr. Clinton has been doing his inappropriate bit to poison the proto-presidency of George W. Bush by attacking its legitimacy and making himself a precious few, last headlines along the way.

"Clinton Makes Clear That He Believes Gore Won the Election," said one newspaper. "V.I.P. Couple Is a Big Hit Making Washington Debut" whoops, that's about the National Zoo's new pandas. "Team Bush gets snippy as Bill keeps sniping," said another. What's the man putting out there? It started in a eulogy yes, eulogy for the father of First Friend and incoming DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, a New Yorker named John McAuliffe who was also a constituent of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. The late Mr. McAuliffe, Mr. Clinton observed last weekend, "had what in this year turned out to be a bizarre idea: He thought all the votes should be counted." This must have gone over big with the mourners because at a Democratic fund-raiser this week, Mr. Clinton noted the same thing, this time about Washington State: "They have this unusual system in Washington State they actually count all the votes."

When Mr. Clinton arrived in Chicago on Tuesday, he was ready to pull out all the stops for an Al Gore victory: "By the time it was over, our candidate had won the popular vote, and the only way they could win the election was to stop the voting [sic] in Florida." Echoing the boss his job, after all White House spokesman Jake Siewert later explained that Mr. Clinton believes "that obviously if all the votes had been counted, we might have seen a very different vote."

Should I say it? All the votes were counted. In Florida, they were recounted, and even, selectively, hand-counted again. According to the rules of game, the laws of the contested state of Florida, and the ultimate ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, George W. Bush won the presidential election. Now, no one ever expected Mr. Clinton to go noble on us, but there was probably still a faint expectation of some valedictory sense of decorum from this man who is still president for just a few more days. Fat chance. What we are witness to is more than gaucherie, a fit of pique, or bad form. It is an attempt to distort events, to cling to the rim of the limelight and win history's vindication. Responding to Mr. Clinton's outbursts, Mr. Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer spoke of "a tradition in this country of presidents leaving office with respect for their successors. I'm certain [Mr. Clinton] will want to follow that."

He should at least think it over. You know, look into his soul as he so frequently does and wonder: "Should I, you know, follow a tradition in this country of presidents leaving office with respect for their successors when I, you know, didn't have any respect for the office itself?" The answer is easy.




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