Clinton's final days

By Charles Taylor and Joan Walsh

Published January 18, 2001 7:15PM (EST)

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Thank you for reminding us that friendly, efficient, self-promoting, emotionally detached chameleons can still make a very large number of people love them for their image alone. It's been a long time since high school, and perhaps many of us had begun to forget what it was like.

Then again, viewed in that light, I suppose it's not surprising that the guy who swindled us out of our "political virginity" has the power to make that defloration seem romantic even in retrospect. Who dares to speak against the Golden Boy?

-- Keith Ammann

Faced with the Lewinsky crisis, President Clinton "saved his ass" by cranking his spin machine up to blacken Monica as a stalking psycho, bombing Sudan and Afghanistan, not to mention perjuring himself in front of a federal judge whose presence he requested specifically. Charles Taylor may miss this casual amorality, but I won't.

-- Lawrence Richette

Your farewell to President Clinton was the most fitting, most true and most touching goodbye to any public figure I have ever read. I say this without snickering. May God bless your pen.

-- C. Tyler

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I really feel your pain. You have undertaken the impossible task of saying something positive about the departing president. You try very hard. But can't you see? The harder you try, the more ridiculous you sound. You bring in Walt Whitman, for instance. But the only connection that Clinton has with the poet is that he gave copies of "Leaves of Grass" to his love interests of the moment. He gave it to Hillary; he gave it to Monica and God knows who else.

You seem so desperate that you compare the behavior of a president of eight years to a president-elect. You admire Clinton sitting next to George W. Bush. Is it really that admirable to be able to feel at home at the White House after eight years? Shouldn't you be waiting for at least eight weeks to judge Bush's performance as president?

-- Jacques Soudo

This isn't a weird fan letter, but I really feel as if you have read my mind over the past several years concerning Clinton. I agree with everything you said in the article. I also want to share a few experiences I had in Washington, during the impeachment trial.

I was staying at the Hay Adams Hotel for almost two months during the impeachment trial. (I was on medical evacuation from my husband's diplomatic posting in Lagos, Nigeria, while my young son had surgery.) I saw Sally Quinn having lunch in the dining room right after she wrote that horrible piece about Clinton, and I almost went right up to her and said, "Who are you to say such things about Bill and Hillary Clinton?" My children were with me, so I held myself back.

I actually did later approach Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., at Union Station and Chris Matthews in the lobby of my hotel to give them a piece of my mind about their nasty attitudes concerning the impeachment. (Barr was rude and interrupted me, and Matthews muttered, "What is it about women and Bill Clinton?")

I think you were dead-on in your article. I am going to send a copy of this to all my friends and one to my e-mail account so I can keep it. Thank you for so eloquently voicing what so many of us think about this flawed, but goodhearted politician.

-- Rebecca Jarmillo McCullough, U.S. Embassy, Islamabad, Pakistan

You write some good fiction. Po' li'l Billy, just a misunderstood white boy, a true man-child of the South. A man with the characteristics of Horatio Alger and Lonesome Rhodes in one package is elected to the presidency, the loftiest of lofty, only to be brought down by personal angst and forces beyond his control. In the end, our boy tries to make amends and goes out with Dickensian honor?

This scenario is almost as bad as the bull served at the Bush dinner table.

About three weeks into his presidency, Clinton revealed himself to be a man with no moral compass and no particular idea or philosophy about which he feels strongly. Ideas, faith, loyalty, compassion, love, responsibilities -- none of these things mean anything to Clinton; they are relevant only to the extent he can experience them sensually.

Political pundits, today's high priests, have decreed that, because of various cosmic collisions, this tiny little speck of a man is a tragic figure. Clinton's tragedy rests in the fact that all of the love, success, sex, drugs, press and money would never be enough because, at his core, he is empty and full of greed. Our president isn't a giver, he's an avaricious and greedy taker who has succeeded in inflicting his personal inferno upon a gullible public.

-- Linda Hartman

I will very much miss Bill Clinton, warts and all. While it's easy to say that he betrayed liberalism terribly, almost driving a stake through its beating, bleeding heart, I can't help but think that he's the best we ("we" being those of us left of center) will see for a long time.

Opportunistic? Yes. Craven? At times. But underneath it all, I saw in him what I see in few public figures these days -- the true desire to do good (if only he could exercise sufficient self-restraint and forthrightness). Clinton connected to human beings as few politicians have, and more than almost any president has.

Most chief executives comport themselves as if they are posing for inclusion on Mount Rushmore, despite the nefarious deals and betrayals that are inevitably occurring beneath the surface. Bill, on the other hand, never lost the feeling of being "just plain folks" -- smarter than many, more charismatic than most, but human. And his downfall was due mainly to his human appetite. The man liked food too much, sex too much, consensus too much. None of these things make him a leader for the ages, but they do reflect that there's a human heartbeat within that beefy body. And in the reptilian universe that is Washington, that says a lot.

-- Ken Munch

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