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Ex-Files: Clinton's comeback

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 24, 2010; 7:34 AM

Bill Clinton, we are told, is the most popular Democrat out on the campaign trail.

While some in the party have no desire for Barack Obama to stop by, or suddenly remember a dentist's appointment when he shows up in the state, Bubba is very much in demand.

Which is somewhat amusing, because 10 years ago it was the 42nd president who was deemed a liability on the hustings when his vice president was trying to get himself elected.

What's fascinating to me is the way we soften our view toward presidents once they are safely out of office. There has even been a hint of nostalgia for George W. Bush, who has remained largely silent while working on his book. Maureen Dowd and a couple of other liberal columnists have recently recalled W's reassuring words on the rights of Muslims and called for him to speak out on the mosque controversy. Even Jimmy Carter has been far more successful as an ex-president than he was in the White House.

During his eight years, Clinton was the focus of constant attacks from the GOP. He was Slick Willie, he was too liberal, he was going to tank the economy, he was dissembling about Whitewater, he didn't respect the military, he sold the Lincoln Bedroom, he was a lying philanderer. (Well, uh, that part turned out to be true.)

Al Gore, seemingly happily married to Tipper at the time, wanted to distance himself from the boss's moral failings in 2000, and Clinton was used only in selected districts.

But the passage of time puts things in perspective. The whole Monica mess, while a tawdry betrayal on Clinton's part, hardly seems worthy of impeachment. Many people are more likely to remember Clinton for the booming '90s economy and welfare reform than the endless investigations and the spectacular failure on health care.

Former presidents are also judged in part by the performance of their successors. Clinton could have done more against terrorism, but the fact that he didn't lead us into a bloody war based on faulty intelligence looms larger in retrospect.

In the same vein, Clinton was an emotional, feel-your-pain politician--to the point of parody--while Obama comes across as cool, calm and rational. For those who feel his demeanor hasn't matched the moment, the Clintonian style seems to exude greater leadership.

There is, of course, an inescapable irony in Clinton, who campaigned hard (and often clumsily) against Obama two years ago, emerging as an effective surrogate. He talks up the administration of which his wife is now a part and dismisses what he calls Democratic "bellyaching." If you hang around long enough and your hair turns white enough, you become eligible for elder statesman status.

More on the mosque

The Nation's Richard Kim scolds the press:

"The list of establishment voices who have spoken out--often forcefully--against the plainly bigoted crusade against Park51, a/k/a the Cordoba House, should be daunting. It includes the editorial pages of the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and (grudgingly) the Wall Street Journal as well as CNN's Fareed Zakaria (who returned an award from the ADL in protest), NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg, Post columnist Kathleen Parker, the American Jewish Committee, J-Street and Iraq war boosters Christopher Hitchens and Peter Beinart, whose recent Daily Beast columns put him somewhere just slightly to the right of Noam Chomsky. This honor roll even included, for a brief moment, President Obama, who is now twisting himself into knots trying to retract his retraction of his refudiation of the smear.


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