Roundup: Media's Take
This is where we excerpt articles from the media that take a historical approach to events in the news.
Al Gore, in a speech at the Georgetown University Law Center (June 24, 2004):
...When we Americans first began, our biggest danger was clearly in view: we knew from the bitter experience with King George III that the most serious threat to democracy is usually the accumulation of too much power in the hands of an Executive, whether he be a King or a president. Our ingrained American distrust of concentrated power has very little to do with the character or persona of the individual who wields that power. It is the power itself that must be constrained, checked, dispersed and carefully balanced, in order to ensure the survival of freedom. In addition, our founders taught us that public fear is the most dangerous enemy of democracy because under the right circumstances it can trigger the temptation of those who govern themselves to surrender that power to someone who promises strength and offers safety, security and freedom from fear.
It is an extraordinary blessing to live in a nation so carefully designed to protect individual liberty and safeguard self-governance and free communication. But if George Washington could see the current state of his generation's handiwork and assess the quality of our generation's stewardship at the beginning of this twenty-first century, what do you suppose he would think about the proposition that our current president claims the unilateral right to arrest and imprison American citizens indefinitely without giving them the right to see a lawyer or inform their families of their whereabouts, and without the necessity of even charging them with any crime. All that is necessary, according to our new president is that he - the president - label any citizen an "unlawful enemy combatant," and that will be sufficient to justify taking away that citizen's liberty - even for the rest of his life, if the president so chooses. And there is no appeal.
What would Thomas Jefferson think of the curious and discredited argument from our Justice Department that the president may authorize what plainly amounts to the torture of prisoners - and that any law or treaty, which attempts to constrain his treatment of prisoners in time of war is itself a violation of the constitution our founders put together.
What would Benjamin Franklin think of President Bush's assertion that he has the inherent power - even without a declaration of war by the Congress - to launch an invasion of any nation on Earth, at any time he chooses, for any reason he wishes, even if that nation poses no imminent threat to the United States.
How long would it take James Madison to dispose of our current President's recent claim, in Department of Justice legal opinions, that he is no longer subject to the rule of law so long as he is acting in his role as Commander in Chief.
I think it is safe to say that our founders would be genuinely concerned about these recent developments in American democracy and that they would feel that we are now facing a clear and present danger that has the potential to threaten the future of the American experiment.
Shouldn't we be equally concerned? And shouldn't we ask ourselves how we have come to this point?...
Kogure Satoko, in Japan Times (reprinted in Japan Focus) (June 15, 2004):
"I do understand why that girl could do such a brutal thing, because I myself treated people cruelly during World War II, without any hesitation," says 82-year-old Nishiguchi Masaichi, a former military policeman (MP) in the Japanese Army.
When Nishiguchi first saw the news about U.S. soldiers abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, memories from over 60 years ago flash backed to him.
Nishiguchi, who is retired and living in Mie Prefecture, has openly confessed his actions during the war in the hope that his experiences can help to prevent the same tragedy occurring again.
"I'm so ashamed that I did such a thing, and I have felt so sorry for the detainees that I dealt with.
"I know how war can dehumanize people, and that is war. I experienced that. But I also know how cruel the remainder of their lives can be for those who have been treated cruelly and for those who have committed cruel acts."
Nishiguchi was sent to the border of Manchuria, a former puppet nation established by Imperial Japan in China in 1942. There, his duty was to uncover spies from the former USSR. Nishiguchi and his comrades hunted down suspicious persons, capturing them, and then detaining and torturing them during interrogation.
"I hung a Chinese man by rope-handcuffs from a crossbeam and beat him with a bamboo sword until blood gushed out from all over his body. Having been tortured for a week, the strong man became deadly weak, and started to nod to the other MP's leading questions."
According to Nishiguchi, the clear order from higher officers to the MPs was "to find a spy." Beyond that, such details as how they might "find" a spy became "unspoken orders" and "recognized by everybody from the top down."
This unspoken order and "feeling" shared by everybody created the atmosphere for the abuse."
"I perfectly understand what the situation must be like at Abu Ghraib. American soldiers tortured Iraqi detainees so that they could get any useful information from them, such as where Saddam was hiding and how the resistance force is operating. That's how I worked in Manchuria," he says.
"Now I deeply regret what I've done, but at that time I believed I was doing the right thing," Nishiguchi says. "I thought I was performing my mission of eliminating enemies, and even felt proud of finding a 'spy' and being praised by a higher officer."
But, he continued, "all the people concerned with the abuse at Abu Ghraib, including the young MPs and high-ranking officers, should regret what they've done for the rest of their lives, as well as fully take responsibility."
Over sixty years ago, when Nishiguchi heard the shriek of tortured detainees for the first time, he was "hugely disturbed and couldn't sleep because of the disgusting feeling."
However, after a while he "ceased to care about it."
While the Abu Ghraib tragedy reminds Nishiguchi of past experiences, today most Japanese don't view the reality of detainee abuse as something that might happen to their own country.
Even though Japan is known to have committed war crimes against prisoners-of-war during WWII, and that generation that bore witness to it first-hand still carries those memories, younger generations of Japanese are hardly ever taught about this side of Japanese history, if at all.
However, Nishiguchi believes that "the possibility that these things might happen can't be denied in any military at any time when faced with a war situation."
Even regarding the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), "Japanese people should not view them as removed from this POW issue."
Indeed, Japan, which is bound to a pacifist course by Article 9 of its Constitution, is already readying for a time when it will again be responsible for the treatment of POWs.
Last month, the House of Representatives passed a package of seven-security related bills to augment war contingency legislation enacted last year.
One of the seven bills, which received final approval yesterday, concerns measures to deal with prisoners of war. With the Diet also ratifying two protocols of the Geneva Conventions, the introduction of the POW law is to ensure that prisoners of war are treated according to international law.
As the SDF and the U.S. forces in Japan are expected to jointly defend the country, in light of the Abu Ghraib affair, it is essential that the SDF be educated in and familiar with international humanitarian law.
However, since the law allows the two forces to hand over POWs detained by each force to the other, and is not designed to bind U.S. treatment of POWs, the SDF has an even greater responsibility toward detainees' rights and must take the lead in defending them.
Although today's situation in Iraq differs greatly from WWII, it is worth bearing in mind that the U.S. and its allies were so determined to uphold international humanitarian law that it charged 5,700 Japanese with war crimes and sentenced 984 of them to death. Among those sentenced to death were young soldiers who had had no idea about Geneva Conventions and just followed orders. While lawmakers rush to pass the security bills in order to prepare the country for a war contingency, it is crucial that the SDF, inexperienced in wartime situations, be prepared and taught to reject any policy that might breach international humanitarian law.
The Ground Self-Defense Force has reportedly made a videotape to educate members about international laws and regulations in wartime. The video includes some dramatized scenes showing how international humanitarian law must be applied in dealing with POWs. However, the SDF ought also to be educated about experiences like those of Nishiguchi's, to be made aware of how easily ordinary men and women can be dehumanized in a war situation.
"Just having a law to protect POWs is meaningless," Nishiguchi said. "We see that even the U.S., which once accused Japan of maltreatment toward POWs, ignores the law."
What's more important and more difficult is "whether we can actually adhere to that law in an abnormal war time situation."
Ann Gerhart, in the Wash Post (June 26, 2004):
Curses! The days of calumny and bellicosity remain a cherished tradition in the United States Senate.
By historical standards, Vice President Cheney's grunted command this week on the floor of the Senate for Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to contort himself into an impossible sexual position was most economical. And, he told Fox News yesterday, "I felt better after I said it." (He's a man of few words, and "sorry" isn't one of them.)
History reveals senators have discovered many ingenious ways to express Cheney's sentiment without resorting to short, pungent Anglo-Saxonisms. Most have involved florid paragraphs of rebuke. But pistols and blood have been drawn. Canes have been used.
Way back, Thomas Jefferson knew it would come to this. In his classic Manual of Parliamentary Practice, Jefferson, then vice president of the fledgling republic, warned: "No one is to disturb another in his speech by hissing, coughing, spitting, speaking or whispering to another; nor to stand up or interrupt him" and so on. From its beginning, the United States Senate was so preoccupied with decorum that 10 of its first 20 rules detailed proper behavior.
But for the longest time, senators resisted adopting Rule 19 -- "No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator," certainly a subjective and imprecise standard.
That changed after 1902, when jockeying between the distinguished gentlemen from South Carolina resulted in their censure. The junior senator, John McLaurin, proclaimed the senior senator, Ben Tillman, guilty of "a willful, malicious and deliberate lie." Tillman promptly responded with a square punch in the jaw. The ensuing Senate-floor brawl looked like a modern bench-clearing fracas in major league baseball.
Nearly 50 years before, a Massachusetts senator had been beaten unconscious, three days after he took to the floor to denounce two Democratic senators he believed to be pro-slavery. Illinois's Stephen Douglas, Charles Sumner had said, was a "noise-some, squat and nameless animal." He then accused South Carolina's Andrew Butler of taking "a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight. I mean," he added, "the harlot, Slavery." That brought House member Preston Brooks in to defend Butler, striking Sumner about the head so furiously with a cane that the senator was carried bloody and unconscious from the chamber.
Cheney's remark this week -- he serves as president of the Senate -- arrived with such explosiveness because anger in the Senate is always to be deeply masked.
"Part of the much vaunted civility is -- how shall I say this? -- that gentlemen speak to gentlemen in terms that are gentlemanly," says Senate historian Richard Baker. "That there should be no barriers to understanding and communication that might happen with profane language."
One of Baker's personal favorite examples of this verbal legerdemain dates to 1925. Sen. Richard Ernst (R-Ky.) went after Sen. James Couzens (R-Mich.) with this: "I wish to know if there be any way under the rules of the Senate whereby I can, without breaking those rules, and without offending senators about me, call a member a willful, malicious, wicked liar? Is there any way of doing that?" Ernst was forced to take his seat, which he could do smugly, point well made.
And this from the legendary Huey Long of Louisiana, referring to Sen. Pat Harrison (D-Miss.) in 1934: "We all have our way of working. One is just as honest as the other. One is, catch your friend in trouble, stab him in the back and drink his blood. The other is, stand by your friend and try to heal his wounds." Down went Long, forced to sit for "imputing the motive of Harrison drinking the blood of his friend."
In "Dark Horse," his book about President Garfield, Washington lawyer Ken Ackerman writes that one "can search the Congressional Record and Globe through two hundred years of debate and never see a member of Congress insult a colleague so directly, brutally and articulately, on the record, in public, looking directly at him across the room" as Maine Republican James Blaine did in the 1880s to New York Republican Roscoe Conkling, his longtime nemesis. The eruption was caused by something utterly trivial. It still rings.
"As for the gentleman's cruel sarcasm," Blaine said, an eye to the galleries, waving dismissively at his opponent, "I hope he will not be too severe. The contempt of that large-minded gentleman is so wilting; his haughty disdain, his grandiloquent swell, his majestic, supereminent, overpowering, turkeygobbler strut has been so crushing to myself and all members of this House that I know it was an act of the greatest temerity for me to venture upon a controversy with him."
He was just warming up. Seizing on a newspaper story that had compared Conkling to a deceased great statesman, Blaine used it for ridicule. "The gentleman [Conkling] took it seriously, and it has given his strut additional pomposity. The resemblance is great. It is striking. Hyperion to a satyr, Thersites to Hercules, mud to marble, dunghill to diamond, a singed cat to a Bengal tiger, a whining puppy to a roaring lion. Shade of the mighty [Henry Winder] Davis? Forgive the almost profanation of that jocose satire!"
Ah, those days are no more. In the politics of the past few decades, senators excoriate each other with some pith....
Bill Clinton, having delivered a command performance in launching his book blitz with Dan Rather last night, is in no danger of getting the Ronald Reagan treatment.
Liberal commentators, some swallowing hard, may have hailed the 93-year-old Gipper as he passed from the scene. But there is no cultural cease-fire for the 57-year-old Democrat who left office less than four years ago.
"The respect and honor that Democrats have shown, in an appropriate way, for President Reagan will not be shown to President Clinton," says former White House spokesman Joe Lockhart."They don't live by the same credo. They're mean and nasty people. . . . They aren't self-aware enough to understand the image they'll create for themselves when they trash Clinton at every turn."
National Review Editor Rich Lowry says Clinton's book"will go over like a lead balloon with conservatives -- a very large, 950-pound lead balloon. It will prompt an orgy of argument over what happened in the 1990s and who was responsible."
When some conservatives buy Lowry's book"Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years," they rip off the dust jacket because it has a somewhat flattering picture of the 42nd president."It's too soon for any nostalgia, even if justified," Lowry says."He doesn't have any Reagan-like grand accomplishments everyone can coalesce around."
Some obvious caveats: Reagan, despite the Iran-contra scandal, left office a popular figure; Clinton's departure came two years after he was impeached and was clouded by his wave of last-minute pardons. Reagan was idolized by conservative opinion-mongers; liberal commentators were more conflicted about Clinton, especially after his sex-and-lying scandal.
More important, while Alzheimer's disease had sidelined Reagan for a decade, Clinton remains a player who is actively backing John Kerry -- and has a wife in the Senate who could run for his old job.
"Bill Clinton is still a radioactive figure," says historian Douglas Brinkley."He raises more money than anyone else, and Republicans raise money against him."
What's more, says Brinkley,"we live in a sound-bite culture. Ronald Reagan's sound bite is, 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.' Bill Clinton's sound bite is, 'I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.' . . . Take a swipe at Reagan at your peril. Take a swipe at Clinton, and you get laughs and applause...."
David Brock has written a new book called The Republican Noise Machine: How It Corrupts Our Democracy. In it, he purports to expose the vast right-wing media conspiracy, a menace Brock claims to know first-hand as someone who was once a cog in its malignant machine. First-hand knowledge is an important claim for Brock because, as a famous self-confessed prevaricator, he is aware that he stands on shaky ground as he attempts to extend the successful career he has made out of his confession of malfeasance and the political reversal it announced. A similar dilemma haunts the postpartum lives of other reborn prevaricators like Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair. Brock’s advantage over them in finding a readership willing to believe his stories again is that he is selling a message his new political allies are eager to hear.
I do not intend to examine the thesis of Brock’s book, which I admit I find preposterous – that unscrupulous, partisan conservatives have invaded arenas previously governed by impeccable standards of fairness and objectivity, and thereby corrupted American journalism and politics in the process. Only the ideologically blinded will be persuaded by special pleadings like this. As a conservative writer and publisher, I have the dubious privilege of appearing as one of the culprits in Brock’s profile of what he claims is a vast right wing media conspiracy. In a dozen pages of The Republican Noise Machine, Brock offers readers an account of my career as a cabalist of the Right and polluter of the nation’s journalistic airwaves. What I propose instead is to use Brock’s account of my attitudes and deeds as an occasion to assess his reliability as a reporter of facts (rather than as an interpreter of their significance). In other words, I will use this opportunity to examine the reliability of Brock in providing the evidentiary basis he offers his readers to make a judgment about my work or anyone else’s.
I am an exceptionally promising subject for such an exercise because I have published a lengthy autobiography and left a clearly defined trail in many books and articles readily available on the web (at www.frontpagemag.com and www.Salon.com). Therefore a comparison of Brock’s version to this published record offers a unique and fairly precise way for readers to gauge his accuracy as a journalist and his reliability as a guide to the evidence, quite apart from any political conclusions he draws from it. In sum, if David Brock wanted to get the bare facts of what I have done and what I have said correct by checking the sources, he could easily have done so. He would not have to undertake the arduous task of tracking them down or conducting interviews with people who knew me, or with myself. Nor would readers have to weigh the veracity of his account of such interviews where only he and his subject were present, which is often the most problematic aspect of assessing the fairness and accuracy of a writer’s work. In order to measure Brock’s regard for the evidence, I will attempt (without unnecessarily boring the reader) to cover every factual statement about me that he makes in this book.
Brock begins his account of my career inauspiciously with a reference exaggerated to the point of distortion. “In the 1960s, Horowitz had been an editor of Ramparts, one of the most violently radical organs of the New Left.” (Brock, p. 100) While Ramparts was indeed a radical organ, it was hardly “one of the most violently radical organs of the time.” Among these one might include Prairie Fire (the publication of the terrorist Weather Underground), The Black Panther, the Revolutionary Worker, the Berkeley Barb and other vanguard publications of movements actively organizing for terrorist and revolutionary agendas.
By contrast, movement activists generally regarded Ramparts as a “sellout” publication because the magazine was published in a slick four-color format for newsstands, as opposed to the “underground” style of truly “movement” papers. Moreover, its staff members were conspicuously not activists themselves. During the 1968 riots at the Democratic Party convention in Chicago, for example, Ramparts’ staff was roundly criticized for setting up headquarters in the “Pump Room” of the Hilton instead of joining other radicals in the dangerous streets. In 1971, Ramparts published an article condemning the violence of the Weather Underground and in 1974 an editorial appeared in the magazine condemning the violence of the SLA. I wrote both pieces myself, a fact reported in my autobiography, Radical Son, which is a text readily available to Brock.
Brock continues: “Horowitz was the author of a book, The Free World Colossus, an influential New Left text indicting U.S. foreign policy. His thinking was shaped by his friend and mentor Isaac Deutscher, a Marxist historian and a biographer of Leon Trotsky” (Brock, p. 100). Isaac Deutscher was indeed my friend and mentor but, as explained in my autobiography, our personal relationship had no influence on The Free World Colossus because I hadn’t even met him at the time I wrote the book in Sweden in 1962-3. I only met Deutscher afterwards when I moved to London, where he resided. The account of our meeting in Radical Son, moreover, refutes Brock’s specific claim that my thinking in the book was shaped by Deutscher. In my autobiography I describe our first encounter in the living room of a mutual friend where I eagerly presented him with one of theses I had advanced (and was most proud of) in The Free World Colossus. This was the notion that Russia’s possession of nuclear weapons was a principal cause of the Sino-Soviet split. Deutscher was so contemptuous of my idea that he rudely turned his back on me and refused to speak to me for the rest of our meeting....
Bill Clinton bounded back into the nation's consciousness this week, hawking his memoirs, sharing his"demons" and seeking to reclaim his place on the national political stage. Yet after more than three years, a $10-million advance and 957 pages to reflect on his life, Clinton remains the flawed figure who left the White House in 2001.
If My Life is the 42nd president's stab at public redemption, he'll need more time to work on it.
Like the character who emerges from his memoirs, the same old Clinton took to the talk-show circuit all this week: politically astute, ethically challenged and passionately divisive. He fascinates and infuriates Americans, who approve of the job he did more than of the person he is, according to a Washington Post /ABC News Poll released this week. Conservative commentators bashed him, and some reviewers panned his book. Yet, adoring fans showed up at midnight to be the first in line when the book went on sale Tuesday morning.
The book reveals anew Clinton's signature"I didn't inhale" manner of skirting the truth; he takes responsibility with one hand and casts it off with the other.
Notably, Clinton admits in his book that his affair with Monica Lewinsky was"immoral and foolish" and hurt his family, the presidency and the American people."That," he writes,"was no one's fault but my own." Good as far as it goes. But in the next breath, he blames his impeachment on a right-wing cabal led by prosecutor Ken Starr bent on bringing him down.
While Clinton writes that he is learning forgiveness, he eagerly takes jabs at Starr and other Republican enemies on the U.S. Supreme Court and in Congress.
He overlooks the central fact about his impeachment: It was not about infidelity, but lying under oath and to the American people.
In ducking full responsibility for his downfall, Clinton is not unlike predecessors who failed to repaint tainted presidencies. Such accounts, historian Richard Norton Smith says, are"faulty vehicles" for rewriting history.
Herbert Hoover tried to absolve himself of responsibility for the Depression. Richard Nixon sought to bury Watergate, but never owned up to the depths of his involvement in the scandal. In fact, his take on his undoing was eerily similar to Clinton's....
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT Al Gore recently told an audience that"the [Bush] administration did not hesitate to heighten and distort public fear of terrorism after September 11th, to create a political case for attacking Iraq." With this in mind, I would to like draw your attention to a Project brief entitled, The Clinton Administration's Public Case Against Saddam Hussein. Some highlights:
* The New York Times reported that at the November 14  meeting the"White House decided to prepare the country for war." According to the Times,"[t]he decision was made to begin a public campaign through interviews on the Sunday morning television news programs to inform the American people of the dangers of biological warfare." During this time, the Washington Post reported that President Clinton specifically directed Cohen"to raise the profile of the biological and chemical threat."
* On November 16, Cohen made a widely reported appearance on ABC's This Week in which he placed a five-pound bag of sugar on the table and stated that that amount of anthrax"would destroy at least half the population" of Washington, D.C."
* In an article ("America the Vulnerable; A disaster is just waiting to happen if Iraq unleashes its poison and germs," November 24, 1997), Time wrote that"officials in Washington are deeply worried about what some of them call 'strategic crime.' By that they mean the merging of the output from a government's arsenals, like Saddam's biological weapons, with a group of semi-independent terrorists, like radical Islamist groups, who might slip such bioweapons into the U.S. and use them."
* In Sacramento, November 15, Clinton painted a bleak future if nations did not cooperate against"organized forces of destruction," telling the audience that only a small amount of"nuclear cake put in a bomb would do ten times as much damage as the Oklahoma City bomb did." Effectively dealing with proliferation and not letting weapons"fall into the wrong hands" is"fundamentally what is stake in the stand off we're having in Iraq today."
* He [President Clinton] asked Americans to not to view the current crisis as a"replay" of the Gulf War in 1991. Instead,"think about it in terms of the innocent Japanese people that died in the subway when the sarin gas was released [by the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo in 1995]; and how important it is for every responsible government in the world to do everything that can possibly be done not to let big stores of chemical or biological weapons fall into the wrong hands, not to let irresponsible people develop the capacity to put them in warheads on missiles or put them in briefcases that could be exploded in small rooms. And I say this not to frighten you."
* Cohen began his November 25, 1997 briefing on the Pentagon report by showing a picture of a Kurdish mother and her child who had been gassed by Saddam's army. A bit later, standing besides the gruesome image, he described death on a mass scale."One drop [of VX nerve agent] on your finger will produce death in a matter of just a few moments. Now the UN believes that Saddam may have produced as much as 200 tons of VX, and this would, of course, be theoretically enough to kill every man, woman and child on the face of the earth." He then sketched an image of a massive chemical attack on an American city. Recalling Saddam's use of poison gas and the sarin attack in Tokyo, Cohen warned that"we face a clear and present danger today" and reminded people that the"terrorist who bombed the World Trade Center in New York had in mind the destruction and deaths of some 250,000 people that they were determined to kill...."
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS
But first we turn to something else that a ...
CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS
(Off Camera) Is it a mask?
(Off Camera) ... lot of people are talking about. You've probably all heard about the polarizing new movie by Michael Moore. It is called"Fahrenheit 911." And, depending who you talk to, it is either a devastating attack on the president, or a completely unfair polemic attack on him. And everyone who has seen it, however, says that at the center of it is a moment, a moment on September 11th, when President Bush was told America is under attack as the second plane hit the World Trade Center.
(Voice Over) And what happened next is he stayed and read to the children, with the children, with seven minutes in the life of a president, seven minutes in the history of the nation, and seven minutes a lot of people are using as a kind of Rorschach test.
(Off Camera) George Stephanopoulos is here. He's seen the movie and, of course, watched the scenes of that moment. But let's begin with ABC's Jake Tapper who has a report.
JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS
(Voice Over) It was just a few minutes. But Democrats hope seeing them will make voters uncomfortable, not just with the scene, but with the president himself. It's the morning of September 11th. President Bush is sitting with grade schoolers at a classroom in Sarasota, Florida. He already knows one plane has hit a World Trade Center tower. At 9:07, his chief of staff tells him a second plane hit the second tower, America is under attack. The president does not react immediately. He remains seated, continuing to read the children's book"My Pet Goat" along with the class. In New York City, chaos. The towers are engulfed in flames. Back in Sarasota, the president remains in the classroom.
Try that again. Get ready ...
(Voice Over) In all, seven minutes elapse from the moment the second plane crashes until the president excuses himself.
Mr. President, are you aware of the reports that a plane crashed in New York?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES
We'll talk about it later.
(Voice Over) A few days ago, the 9/11 Commission gave us the president's explanation for the 7-minute wait.
DANA HYDE, 9/11 COMMISSION STAFF
The president felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening.
(Voice Over) But in his new movie, filmmaker Michael Moore shows many of these crucial minutes which he says has the opposite effect.
MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER
This does not look like a man who is trying to project calm and strength. He looks frightened and lost, and you almost feel sorry for him.
(Voice Over) White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card disputes this view.
ANDREW CARD, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF
I think there was a, a moment of shock, and he did stare off maybe for just a second.
(Voice Over) FDR, JFK, past presidents had time to absorb bad news before projecting strength to the country. But clearly, the new media age changes things.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN
In these days when presidents are almost on all the time, they have to think a lot more about how they look at the moment that they get news like this.
(Off Camera) Republicans argue President Bush's leadership on 9/11 is one of the best reasons to vote for him. But Democrats hope voters see these seven minutes and question that. Jake Tapper, ABC News, Washington....
The good news for Bill Clinton is that his book,"My Life," sold about 100,000 copies at Barnes & Noble stores the first day it was on sale, a record for the chain. The bad news for Bill Clinton is that the book sold about 100,000 copies at Barnes & Noble stores, a record for the chain. The book may make Clinton rich. It will not rehabilitate him.
The pity of it is that Clinton went for the bucks. That's understandable, since he never had much money and left office with a mountain of legal and other debts. But ever since Jerry Ford pioneered the franchising of the presidency -- there was virtually nothing he would not do for the right fee -- huge riches have awaited any former occupant of the White House. Solvency would have come to Clinton, if it has not already, even without his $10 million book advance. Clinton took the money -- and the obligation that came with it: write the sort of book that could be promoted on"Oprah." Clinton more or less did that.
The early reviews have been eviscerating, particularly the one in the New York Times. Its chief reviewer, Michiko Kakutani, somehow managed to read 957 pages in what must have been about a day and pronounced the book a mess --"sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull." Other reviews have reached similar conclusions (although some feel otherwise), but suffice it to say that it is not being universally hailed as a triumph -- a book as brilliant as its author.
My own hurried perusal of the tome leads me to support Kakutani. Although in his acknowledgment Clinton thanks his editor, Robert Gottlieb, for teaching him about"hard cuts," it sometimes seems that nothing has been cut. We get, for instance, an appreciation of the Grand Canyon in late afternoon:"It was amazing the way the rocks, compressed into distinct layers over millions of years, changed colors as the canyon darkened from the bottom up." Nice, but can we move on?
To a large extent, Ulysses S. Grant's presidency was rehabilitated by his memoirs, written as the Civil War general was dying of cancer. Richard Nixon, virtually banished from Washington, wrote book after book from his exurban Elba in New Jersey. Watergate haunted him, as it should have, but slowly we came to realize that he possessed a first-class mind, keenly analytical, occasionally wise. No one could say that Nixon did not have gravitas.
Clinton, too, has a first-class mind -- I have observed him long enough to tell you that -- but this book, and especially the attendant publicity, obscures it. The people who lined up long before dawn to buy a copy were not drooling to find out about health care or the budget. Instead they were seeking a piece of Clinton -- like a souvenir or an autograph. He has emerged as the uber-celebrity of our times, beloved for his good looks, his charm and, paradoxically, the sex scandal that almost doomed his presidency....
Bill Clinton is not the first husband to find himself sleeping alone on a sofa, but he's the first president to ever admit it.
"Whatever the motives of my adversaries, it became clear on those solitary nights in my upstairs office that if I wanted compassion from others, I needed to show it, even to those who didn't respond in kind. Besides, what did I have to complain about? I would never be a perfect person, but Hillary was laughing again, Chelsea was still doing well at Stanford, I was still doing a job I loved and spring was on the way."
So much for"that woman" and impeachment.
In this age of therapeutic soul-bearing memoirs, we've come to expect admissions like that one, but hearing it from a former commander in chief is, well, a little embarrassing.
There are other painful confessions from Clinton in his attention-getting book,"My Life," but this is a different kind of"tell-all" autobiography.
It's short on sin but long on details major and minor. In fact, there would be a lot less of Clinton's 957-page"Life" if he'd left out his high school girlfriends and his favorite foods.
"I loved those RCs [Royal Crown Colas] and it was really sad when they quit producing them," laments Clinton in a section about his college days. (For the record, RC is still in business.)
Mirroring his two terms in the White House,"My Life" squanders an extraordinary opportunity. Here is a relatively young, intelligent and engaged ex-president given the chance to reflect on his remarkable time in office, and he wastes much of it listing the ordinary details of everyday life.
But, don't blame Clinton. That's the way he is -- a nonstop talker who has depended on a personal and folksy style. Blame Robert Gottlieb, so-called editor extraordinaire, who failed to give this book coherence and focus.
Gottlieb failed in similar fashion with Robert Caro's third installment of his Lyndon Johnson biography, which was too long and unbalanced.
In a publicity appearance before his book came out, Clinton joked that he tried to include every person he ever met and Gottlieb reined him in.
He let Clinton name every other person....
One of the many problems with the American left, and indeed of the American left, has been its image and self-image as something rather too solemn, mirthless, herbivorous, dull, monochrome, righteous, and boring. How many times, in my old days at The Nation magazine, did I hear wistful and semienvious ruminations? Where was the radical Firing Line show? Who will be our Rush Limbaugh? I used privately to hope that the emphasis, if the comrades ever got around to it, would be on the first of those and not the second. But the meetings themselves were so mind-numbing and lugubrious that I thought the danger of success on either front was infinitely slight.
Nonetheless, it seems that an answer to this long-felt need is finally beginning to emerge. I exempt Al Franken's unintentionally funny Air America network, to which I gave a couple of interviews in its early days. There, one could hear the reassuring noise of collapsing scenery and tripped-over wires and be reminded once again that correct politics and smooth media presentation are not even distant cousins. With Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, however, an entirely new note has been struck. Here we glimpse a possible fusion between the turgid routines of MoveOn.org and the filmic standards, if not exactly the filmic skills, of Sergei Eisenstein or Leni Riefenstahl.
To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of"dissenting" bravery.
In late 2002, almost a year after the al-Qaida assault on American society, I had an onstage debate with Michael Moore at the Telluride Film Festival. In the course of this exchange, he stated his view that Osama Bin Laden should be considered innocent until proven guilty. This was, he said, the American way. The intervention in Afghanistan, he maintained, had been at least to that extent unjustified. Something—I cannot guess what, since we knew as much then as we do now—has since apparently persuaded Moore that Osama Bin Laden is as guilty as hell. Indeed, Osama is suddenly so guilty and so all-powerful that any other discussion of any other topic is a dangerous"distraction" from the fight against him. I believe that I understand the convenience of this late conversion.
Fahrenheit 9/11 makes the following points about Bin Laden and about Afghanistan, and makes them in this order:
1) The Bin Laden family (if not exactly Osama himself) had a close if convoluted business relationship with the Bush family, through the Carlyle Group.
2) Saudi capital in general is a very large element of foreign investment in the United States.
3) The Unocal company in Texas had been willing to discuss a gas pipeline across Afghanistan with the Taliban, as had other vested interests.
4) The Bush administration sent far too few ground troops to Afghanistan and thus allowed far too many Taliban and al-Qaida members to escape.
5) The Afghan government, in supporting the coalition in Iraq, was purely risible in that its non-army was purely American.
6) The American lives lost in Afghanistan have been wasted. (This I divine from the fact that this supposedly"antiwar" film is dedicated ruefully to all those killed there, as well as in Iraq.)
It must be evident to anyone, despite the rapid-fire way in which Moore's direction eases the audience hastily past the contradictions, that these discrepant scatter shots do not cohere at any point. Either the Saudis run U.S. policy (through family ties or overwhelming economic interest), or they do not. As allies and patrons of the Taliban regime, they either opposed Bush's removal of it, or they did not. (They opposed the removal, all right: They wouldn't even let Tony Blair land his own plane on their soil at the time of the operation.) Either we sent too many troops, or were wrong to send any at all—the latter was Moore's view as late as 2002—or we sent too few. If we were going to make sure no Taliban or al-Qaida forces survived or escaped, we would have had to be more ruthless than I suspect that Mr. Moore is really recommending....
This is Bill Clinton week, as the former President and CBS launch his $10 million memoirs. Though some people seem eager to refight the ethics wars of the 1990s, it strikes us that the news is how much smaller his Presidency looms in historical terms a mere three years after it ended.
The early reviewers report that the bulk of Mr. Clinton's 957-page tome is personal, and perhaps that's of necessity. Even during the 1990s, questions about his personal and public character dwarfed debates over policy, and time has only accentuated this disparity. Compared to the achievements of Ronald Reagan that we have just celebrated -- ending the Cold War in victory, breaking inflation and slowing the growth of government -- Mr. Clinton's Presidency seems far less consequential.
Future historians may well find his eight years in office to have been a parenthesis between two greater political eras. After his attempts to expand the government were rebuffed by voters in 1994, Mr. Clinton settled for consolidating the political gains of the Reagan years. His greatest achievement -- welfare reform -- had been percolating on the political right for a generation. Certainly he deserves credit for pushing that, as well as Nafta, despite opposition from his fellow Democrats.
The years have not been as kind to some of Mr. Clinton's other claims to posterity. The economic boom of the 1990s proved to be partly a financial bubble that we now know began to burst with the stock market break in April 2000. The growth that was real resulted less from any specific policy than from the gridlock between Mr. Clinton and the GOP Congress that kept government from doing much at all after 1994. No period since the 1920s was as free of new federal intrusion.
We now know that the relative peace of the 1990s was also part illusion. The rapid decline in defense spending after the end of the Cold War helped balance the federal budget. But as we learned on 9/11, the 1990s were years in which we stored up foreign-policy trouble.
Mr. Clinton says in his book that he warned the new President Bush that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were our gravest national threat. But even if we take him at his word, that leaves the question of why he did so little to counter that threat as it was gathering. The entire political class shares the blame here, but Mr. Clinton manifestly did not use his Presidential platform to educate or warn the public about the rising dangers. Bin Laden was barely mentioned during the election campaign of 2000, and today's resurgent deficits result in part from the need to make up for money that wasn't spent on defense during our holiday from history in the 1990s.
Historians will no doubt ask why a man of such prodigious, indeed prodigal, talents would end up with such a thin record. This is where the question of character will intrude. Any Presidency has only so much energy and capital to spend, and Mr. Clinton's ethical travails frittered away much of his....
EVEN AS THE LAST OF THE TRIBUTES to Ronald Reagan straggle out, there's an elementary fact about his presidency that anyone who didn't live through it might not have picked up from the coverage. It's the fact that, after years and years of frightening drift, suddenly you could tell that someone in Washington was steering the ship.
It felt that way from the moment of Reagan's inauguration. No sooner had the new president uttered the oath of office, than at long last the American hostages in Tehran were set free. Literally, at midday on Inauguration Day, the 52 Americans held prisoner for 444 days by a regime that daily reviled the United States as the Great Satan were let go. And this was no dumb luck. Informed accounts of the Algiers negotiations for the hostages' release confirm that fear of what Reagan might do--combined with a continuing desire to humiliate Carter--governed the Iranians' timing.
Nor was this a one-time success. The same firmness and clarity that caused candidate Reagan, and president-elect Reagan, to call the hostage-takers" criminals and kidnappers" would cause President Reagan a few months later to fire 12,000 air traffic controllers who launched an illegal strike. Four hours into the PATCO strike, he gave them 48 hours to return to work. In explaining his action, the president read on the air the brief oath each controller had taken in assuming his job, an oath in which he promised not to strike. When the 48-hour deadline passed, Reagan did exactly what he had said. And he never backed down.
Thus, within seven months of coming to Washington, Reagan had bracingly taken command. Ordinary people started to feel that effective action wasn't beyond the president after all.
TO APPRECIATE THIS, you have to realize how inured Americans had become to national turmoil and disaster. And that's not just a reference to the Carter years--uneasy as they were, and culminating as they did in the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 1979 (one month after the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran) and, on the home front, in inflation over 13 percent. No, the Carter years were more or less in line with what had come before.
The early 1970s were dominated by the Watergate scandal leading to the resignation of a president, and the bitter American defeat in Vietnam, with its 57,000 American dead and legions of refugees. For that matter, what came before that was the ur-troubled-decade, the 1960s, with its annual race riots (the"long hot summers" whose death toll totaled about 300), the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy, and the convulsions of the war protests and the counterculture....
The story of how President Bush ended up with Saddam Hussein's pistol mounted in his private study off the Oval Office has dribbled out in the last few weeks, and it is a good one.
As first reported in Time magazine, the soldiers who captured Mr. Hussein in December presented the mounted sidearm as a gift to Mr. Bush in a visit to the White House. They were members of the Army's Delta Force team, Mr. Bush later told reporters, and they had confiscated the unloaded pistol from Mr. Hussein's lap when they pulled him out of his spider hole near Tikrit.
"It's now the property of the U.S. government," Mr. Bush said at a news conference this month in Savannah, Ga., when asked specifically about the pistol and whether he would return it to the people of Iraq. What the gun tells us about the president, the war and the relationship of the Bush family to Mr. Hussein is another story entirely. It is in many ways better, or at least more interesting, than the first.
The Iraqi dictator, after all, tried to assassinate Mr. Bush's father in 1993, when he was only a year out of the White House, as payback for the 1991 Persian Gulf war, which the first President Bush had waged on Mr. Hussein. In other words, the gun is more than a gun, at least according to the Freudians.
"It's the phallic equivalent of a scalp - I mean that quite seriously," said Stanley A. Renshon, a psychoanalyst and political scientist at the City University of New York who has just completed a book, to be published by Palgrave/Macmillan in September, called"In His Father's Shadow: The Transformations of George W. Bush."
In Mr. Renshon's view, Mr. Bush went to war for geo-strategic reasons, but there was a powerful personal element as well. In short, Mr. Hussein's gun is a trophy that symbolizes victories both military and psychic.
"There are a lot of different levels at which this operates," Mr. Renshon said."The critics say this is all about finishing up Daddy's mess. I think that is way too off base to be serious. But psychology operates regardless of party line, and this seems to me to be a case in which psychology can't help but express itself, because it's a natural outgrowth of what he's been through and how he feels about it. It's perfectly normal to me."
Michael Sherry, a military historian at Northwestern University, noted that there was a long record of soldiers seizing the weapons of vanquished enemies as the ultimate symbols of defeat. (Even so, it is illegal for American soldiers to take guns off an enemy and keep them for themselves, which is almost certainly why the president declared that the pistol was United States government property rather than his own.)
Relinquishing weapons has historically been part of surrender ceremonies, even though Ulysses S. Grant chose not to ask for Robert E. Lee's sword at Appomattox Court House in 1865 and excluded officers' sidearms from the weapons that the Army of Northern Virginia was expected to turn over to him.
Mr. Hussein's pistol, which Mr. Bush shows off to visitors, is a different matter altogether, Mr. Sherry said, because it was presidential acquisition by force."Whatever specific symbolism Bush may privately attach to this token, it does make it look to the external viewer that he sees this in very personal terms," Mr. Sherry said. In the end, he said,"I'm left feeling that it sounds kind of childish...."
IN THE FALL of 1981, Ronald Reagan placed a phone call from the Oval Office to a lawyer named Jesse Eschbach. Reagan had decided to nominate Eschbach to the federal bench and was calling to ask him to serve. Would he serve! Of course! Judge Eschbach later wrote Reagan to express"my deep appreciation for your kindness and consideration in calling me. It was an experience our family will never forget."
Jesse Eschbach was one of the 382 judges Ronald Reagan appointed. That was (and remains) a record number for one president. With his choices, Reagan filled almost half of the sitting federal judiciary.
Reagan made similar calls to most of his nominees. That was a Reagan innovation. The phone calls indicated how much Reagan cared about judicial selection. So did the process he instituted for vetting nominees. Reagan was the first president to bring serious candidates for the bench to Washington for extensive interviewing. More than 1,000 prospects made the trip.
Reagan had the same interest in judicial selection as his Democratic hero, Franklin D. Roosevelt, did. Presidents who served between them often saw judgeships in terms of patronage--of political favors to be dispensed. But both Roosevelt and Reagan understood judicial selection as an opportunity to influence the path of the law.
Both men felt that way because both had complaints about where the law had been going. Both contended for judges who would exercise restraint. In Reagan's case, he objected to the tendency of courts to declare rights not found in the text or history of the Constitution. To Reagan, the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, which declared the abortion right, was the most notorious example of what a court shouldn't do.
Reagan thus initiated through his judicial selection an important argument about the proper role of the courts. The issue has dominated the politics of judicial selection ever since, with the two parties now firmly on opposite sides. The nominees fought over have included ones designated not only for the Supreme Court but also for the lower courts.
Reagan managed to get most of his nominees confirmed when Republicans held the Senate, as was the case through 1986. But when Democrats regained control in 1987, his batting average declined.
That Congress established the importance to judicial selection of divided government. George H.W. Bush faced a Democratic Senate, and Bill Clinton, for six of his eight years, a Republican Senate. Both presidents would have seen more nominees confirmed had their parties been in the majority....
Attorney Lynne Stewart is about to go on trial for aiding and abetting the terrorist leader Omar Abdel Rahman. Stewart is an avowed supporter of terrorism and an outspoken Communist. Whether she is a member of the party or no is really irrelevant. Her heroes -- as she proudly proclaimed in a toast at the annual convention of the National Lawyers Guild where she was the keynote speaker -- are mass murderers and terrorists, Ho and Lenin and Mao. According to her radical colleague Ron Kuby, Stewart not only identifies with her terrorist clients (she has more than one) but has a passionate affection for the blind sheik who, it will be remembered, plotted to kill 250,000 innocent Americans by blowing up the World Trade Center and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels during rush hour. Lynne Stewart is an ideological monster -- one of the ideological monsters of the progressive left who have spent their political lives supporting America's enemies while defending their treachery as"patriotism" and defenses of the Constitution.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of"liberals" and libertarians who are ready to leap to her defense, and who find John Ashcroft a greater threat than she -- perhaps because Ashcroft has a quaint belief in God, but more likely because he takes seriously the mortal threat emanating from the political left and its jihadist friends and they obviously don't. The current issue of Reason magazine has a defense of Stewart. So does the Sunday op-ed section of the Los Angeles Times. Written by a Brooklyn attorney named Gerald Shargel, the column is titled"Sheik's Lawyer Fights Guilt By Association." A sub-title reads"Rosenberg Case Shadows Trial." I couldn't have captured the continuity better myself. Shargel objects to the prosecution's plans to introduce a video tape of Osama bin Laden supporting the blind Sheik and threatening terror to free him. This Shargel claims is"Guilt by Association." The association is this: Osama Bin Laden, Omar Abdel Rahman and Lynne Stewart are part of a world-wide radical movement which seeks the destruction of the United States. Some members of this movement oppose terrorism and some oppose radical Islam. Lynne Stewart isn't one of them.
Shargel shows his own radical hand in this disingenuous comment:"Like [Lynne] Stewart, the Rosenbergs held opinions that were unconventional and unacceptable in their day. Today, many claim that they were convicted and punished for those beliefs -- for their desire, misguided or not, to change this country and the world -- rather than for what they did or did not do." Those who make such claims either share the Rosenbergs' socialist delusions and anti-American fevers, or are unacquainted with the facts. Hitler also tried to change the world. But no one would be fatuous enough to write sentences like this in defense of Hitler's agents. The Rosenbergs were convicted because they were spies for the greatest mass murderer in human history. (BTW the idea that Ethel didn't know what her husband was doing is preposterous. Morally, she was as guilty as he was.) The Rosenbergs' opinions were unacceptable then not because they were unconventional but because they were morally reprehensible. And so they are today. Or should be....
A BOOK launched last week covers a period of Australian history when parents weren't concerned about their children eating junk food.
Instead, many worried, and desperately, that they might not eat at all.
Today Peter Garrett, Bob Brown and John Howard are seen as extremists by their more hysterical enemies.
During the period of this book there were real extremists: Marxists plotting revolution and fascists looking for a general to help do the same.
And forget about 1000 troops overseas. Back then there were 800 times more abroad in trouble spots much worse than Baghdad.
The book makes clear what a blessed, secure and opulent life we now lead, no matter how we fret over petrol prices, childhood reading skills, or even international terrorism.
It is called The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate: Vol 2 1929-1962 (Melbourne University Publishing, edited by Ann Millar).
It has 104 characters: the people who retired from the Senate, were voted out or, in the cases of 21, died in office in that 33 year period.
Volume One revealed what a bunch of wonderful scoundrels and gifted prophets helped create our nation.
In this second instalment, the life stories of the 103 men and one woman who completed service in the Senate between 1929 and 1962 illustrate the effect global cataclysms had on Australians.
They served between the end of the Roaring '20s and the start of the Swinging '60s. More accurately, they served from the Great Depression, through World War II and into a prosperity blighted by a nuclear fuelled Cold War.
"In those three decades the country suffered a life-threatening illness followed by a near-death experience and a slow recuperation haunted by constant fear of a relapse," wrote Clerk of the Senate Harry Evans in an introduction.
Among the senators were one who fought in the Boer war, World War I and World War II. Another was a savage opponent of conscription whose three sons volunteered during World War I. Only one returned.
Labor's Senate Leader and, more important, its most gifted in-house historian, John Faulkner, has highlighted Agnes Robertson Robertson, a formidable woman who did much despite having to spend her adult life explaining that her married name was the same as her middle given name.
Widowed at 30 in 1912 with three small children, she taught school until 1943 and was busy with church and community matters.
Socially and politically conservative, she nevertheless fought actively for equal rights for women.
In 1949 she became the first Liberal woman elected to the Senate from Western Australia. She was 65.
Faulkner took up her story in an address at the book's launching:"In 1955 the Liberals dropped her from their ticket because they considered her too old.
"She promptly transferred her allegiance to the Country Party, who did not consider her too old to get first place on their ticket.
"After all, they had the precedent of South Australian Labor Senator Frederick Ward -- first elected in 1947 at the age of 75."
Unable to resist a contemporary dig, Faulkner ended this section by saying:"No one should tell Peter Costello about Agnes Robertson's parliamentary career."
He also pointed out that one senator served just 10 days before dying in office, while George Foster Pearce made it through 37 years....
"The Greatest Story Ever Told."
"The Scarlet Presidency."
Depending upon whom you talk to, the nearly 1,000-page memoir by former President Bill Clinton could wear all of these possible titles, befitting its outsized, often larger-than- life main character. Arriving this week with much fanfare and already a No. 1 best-seller based on pre-orders, the story of America's first Baby Boom president is simply and aptly titled"My Life."
In a sense, Clinton's new book is part of a political coming out party for the 57-year-old former president. In the years since leaving the White House, the onetime Arkansas governor has moved much of his personal and public life to New York. While working on his book, he's also been busy with speaking engagements around the world, plans for his presidential library, and even offering political advice to other Democrats running for president in 2004.
Yet, it could also be said Clinton has kept a relatively low profile since leaving office in 2001 amid lingering rancor about his sexual affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Some Democrats avoided him, perceiving him as a political millstone around their necks, while other critics doomed him to rank among history's worst, most disgraced presidents.
But that's already changing. Clinton seems ready once again to move from occasional news items about his whereabouts right up to the front page with revelations from his blockbuster memoir. The headlines suggest a broader transformation is taking place with Clinton, a search for a way out of the political wilderness for a man once called"The Comeback Kid."
On Sunday's edition of"60 Minutes," Clinton provided some of the coming attractions by defending much of his presidency while lamenting his affair with Lewinsky and the impeachment battle that erupted, enshrouding his second term in a cloud of accusation.
Last Monday, Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York's junior U.S. senator, were welcomed with glowing words by President George W. Bush for an official presidential portrait unveiling at the Oval Office.
And on Nov. 18, the $165 million William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park will open in Little Rock, Ark. - a sprawling, glass-covered building fashioned as a bridge, playing off the Clinton administration's oft-repeated theme of"building a bridge to the 21st century."
The one-two punch of a book tour and a presidential library opening - expected to be attended by other U.S. presidents - could influence Clinton's legacy in much the same way that the week-long memorials to President Ronald Reagan did earlier this month.
"The question of legacy for Bill Clinton is not in the past tense but in the future," says Dick Morris, once a top Clinton political operative and now an ardent critic, with his own recent book,"Reinventing History," attacking the Clintons."In Bill's case, he's preparing for Hillary's run and how America sees his eight years is a big part of that equation."
For many Americans, Clinton's memoir may allow a fuller understanding of this enigmatic politician who defined the 1990s - all at once brilliant and confounding, optimistic and far- sighted, yet indulgent, undisciplined and sometimes self-destructive. For Clinton it may also represent a second chance at reformulating history, a gamble not immediately influenced by his detractors and one judged mainly on its merits.
It also may provide some answers for those curious about what Bill Clinton's been up to since he left the White House nearly four years ago.
From her insurance office in Harlem, Carol Bellamy recalls meeting her neighbor, former President Bill Clinton, as he worked the streets like a local politician, greeting people and chatting them up like he was still running for office.
"It was unbelievable that a president of the United States should take such an interest in us," said Bellamy, whose company is one of several Harlem area small businesses receiving technical and managerial assistance through a program set up with Clinton's help.
Shortly after opening his own office in Harlem, Clinton cooperated with the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, New York University's business school, the financial company Booz, Allen, Hamilton and others in starting the program. For Bellamy's modest insurance firm, it meant meeting with seasoned MBAs who provided specific advice that improved her accounting methods, her marketing approach and her focus on her financial goals. Other small Harlem businesses helped by the program include a flower store, a wedding and card shop, a plumbing company, a restaurant, a dentist and a pharmacy.
Though Clinton's often away from his office on other ventures, in Harlem his presidential foundation has been active with local schools, helping to recruit knowledgeable adult volunteers to teach the basics of banking to young people in sixth to 12th grades."There is a strong sense of community here in Harlem, and I really enjoy being a part of this vibrant neighborhood. I am looking for partners who want to bring opportunities to Harlem," Clinton said at an April 2002 appearance at the Roberto Clemente Middle School, not far from his 125th Street office.
Bellamy says she's met Clinton three times since the former president moved his office to Harlem and was impressed that Clinton insisted on follow-up visits to make sure the program was working as promised."I always felt he was a courageous and responsive person and showed sincerity," says Bellamy."He kept his word and helped us."
The Harlem Chamber of Commerce president, Lloyd A. Williams, says Clinton has been remarkably"hands-on," devoting many hours and hosting meetings about the program at his office, which Williams described as"palatial and dramatic," with expansive views of Manhattan....
In his upcoming memoir, former President Bill Clinton tells the story of his life and his presidency. If you ask Columbia Journalism School professor Evan Cornog, however, Clinton is not the first president to spin a yarn, and he certainly will not be the last. According to Cornog, storytelling has always been a president's most important task. In his new book due out in August,"The Power and the Story: How the Crafted Presidential Narrative Has Determined Success from George Washington to George W. Bush" (Penguin Press, $24.95), he argues that even"from the earliest days of the American republic ... those seeking the nation's highest office have had to tell persuasive stories - about the nation, about its problems and, most of all, about themselves."
Before the days of blockbuster publishing deals, presidential narratives made their way into the world through newspaper articles, stump speeches and word-of-mouth anecdotes. Then as now, a good story could make the difference in a tight election, even if it wasn't created by the president himself. For example, in 1840, a Baltimore newspaper made a crack about William Henry Harrison's being happier in a log cabin than the White House."Harrison's people didn't come up with that log cabin," Cornog said in an interview by phone last week,"but they ran with it since it gave Harrison the opportunity to appear as the honest husband of the country." Voters soon forgot Harrison was actually the scion of Virginia aristocracy.
To Cornog, this kind of massaging of the truth is not a bad thing, especially since voters tend to know when they are being misled. In the 1992 campaign, George H.W. Bush donned flannel shirts and gobbled down pork rinds in an attempt to portray himself as a regular guy."And then in a debate with Bill Clinton a voter asked him how the recession had affected him," Cornog said,"and Bush was unable to convince her that he had suffered at all. Bill Clinton then took the question and conveyed an amazing empathy for regular people, and he won the election."
The key to a compelling presidential narrative is not only an element of truth but some resonance with the public at large."Look at John F. Kennedy and his story," Cornog said, referring to Kennedy's wartime experience."Being able to lead your men off a shattered PT boat to an island and to rescue said a lot about his capacity for leadership and endurance. And people were attracted to that." A quarter century later, Ronald Reagan displayed a more jocular kind of heroism when he quipped to surgeons about to remove an assassin's bullet:"I hope you guys are Republicans.""That said something about his courage," Cornog said,"about his humor, about his lack of self-importance."
As a former actor, Reagan had a distinct advantage in getting his story out to the public. Thanks to 24-hour news coverage, Cornog argued,"presidents have become storytellers themselves. They are enacting the stories live." And for Cornog's dollar, no modern American president was more skilled at doing this than Clinton."People were talking last week about Reagan as the great communicator; Clinton was even more so. The way he dealt with people one on one and on stage gave them the sense that they were connecting with him - that he cared how people lived their lives."
Clinton is from the South and has the obvious advantage of coming from a culture of storytellers, but Cornog argues there is no formula to shaping a compelling narrative. After all, people's needs change. Take, for instance George W. Bush's narrative of being a straight shooter. As Cornog said,"One of Bush's temperamental qualities is that he is a very stubborn person, a determined person. That simple determination seemed exactly what the nation needed after 9/11." In recent months Cornog has watched this narrative turn on Bush."When faced with a more complex and ongoing problem, such as Iraq, that stubbornness can seem like obtuseness."
Cornog looks forward to Clinton's memoir because not only is the former president a good storyteller, but the focus of his narrative will probably shift."I may be wrong about this, but one of the great lessons of Monica [Lewinsky] is that ultimately the press and the Republicans were more interested in her than voters. Sure, people want to know the naughty bits. But I think I am not alone in being more interested to see how he deals with his role in the embassy bombings, the Sudan, the presence of al-Qaida...."
As the lives of great men all remind us, figuring out their place in history is no easy thing.
It only seems simpler when the passage of time lends perspective. People who affect the world during their lifetime, after all, may be judged for their deeds but only evaluated by their legacies. Some movers and shakers strut their hour upon the stage, signifying nothing. Others leave profound imprints sometimes not fully seen until years later.
Those who rule or govern are the hardest of all to judge. I think this is because governance itself is a necessary evil, which must control and constrain the evil in men themselves.
The rare rule of saints in history is a reminder: Images of Marcus Aurelius were revered in Roman households for a century after his death, but his emperorship flowed into failure. Aurelius himself grasped this; in his Meditations he wrote, what is the end of it all? A puff of smoke (the funeral pyre) and a legend — or maybe not even a legend.
This, from the ruler of his known world.
A historian of Julius Caesar's era seriously posed the question of whether it might have been better if Caesar had never been born. One of the greatest military leaders in human history, hugely charismatic, with keen insight into the troubles of his time, Caesar was also the destroyer of hundreds of thousands and the republic itself, implacable yet personally kind and generous, hated by most of the elite, loved by the common Roman citizen and soldier.
No one really understood him then, and no one fully understands him now. His legacy was not his conquests but his destruction of the last debris of republican rule, which allowed his successor, Augustus, to erect the Roman Empire.
American presidents are not emperors, but they are in a real sense elected kings. Unlike the various"greats" of the Old World, few have been warriors. George Washington was no Caesar; conscious of the lessons of Roman history, he helped create rather than destroy his republic.
Abraham Lincoln, the great divider and great unifier — more than a million dead bodies — was also personally irreproachable. Both men left lasting legacies; they changed America profoundly and permanently, but — and this still bothers us — nobody ever really knew them.
Washington remained dignified, aloof and in command. Lincoln, beloved of his people, never seemed to feel himself one of them. Noticeably, in moving speeches, he referred to"this people" or"this town," never"my people" or"my town."
This seems to be a characteristic of"great" men. Caesar called himself"Caesar," omitting the Roman custom of first and gentile names, and in different times and society Washington and Lincoln might have done the same.
For better or worse, the long-term reputation of American presidents now resides in the hands of (mainly) academic historians.
The good thing is that the vilification and hatreds expressed by contemporary politicians and press — and Lincoln was probably the most vilified president in our history, even by the Northern press, which described him as"ape" or"baboon" and much preferred 19th-century florid oratory to his simple, beautiful style — is largely forgotten or ignored. Not what contemporaries thought or said about presidents counts, only their lasting legacies.
The bad thing, of course, is that even historians are ruled by fashion and current prejudices, which is why reputations rise and fall. Historians also always believe they are smarter, more learned and perhaps wiser than the presidents whose reputations they dissect....