Earlier in the week I was thinking of how great it would be if Bill Clinton were to be our next president. This was inspired by a description of how, at a recent Fortune conference, Clinton stole the show with his amazing passion and charisma, two key ingredients for any president.
He was in campaign mode but without the restraints of campaign mode. While there was clear bitterness on his part toward the successor who had rushed “to undo everything I’d done,” and the Republicans who “will run over you unless you beat their brains out,” there was a feisty humor too. Of the disputed Harken oil deal, Clinton said Bush had “sold the stock to buy the baseball team which got him the governorship which got him the presidency.”
Clinton kept referring to the media as (contrary to Kinsley’s view) the “supine” media, pointing out that when Bush insulted Helen Thomas (who, by asking a rough question in the infamous prewar press conference had, Clinton said, “committed the sin of journalism”), no “young journalists” stood up and walked out.
The media, the supine media, was going to have to “go to the meat locker and take out its brains and critical skills.”
Everybody seemed to love this. Clinton was not just the beloved former president, but he had become some sort of sassy oracle.
There was a party on the second day for Clinton…. This turned out to be the pivotal moment of the conference—even the primal one. When Clinton took questions, a young man from a technology company who identified himself as chairman of Bush-Cheney 2004 in California said he was offended by Clinton’s partisanship. To which Clinton, without hesitation, and with some kind of predatory gleam in his eye, said, “Good!” From there, Clinton went on, with emotion and anger, at a level seemingly foreign to most everyone here, to rip to shreds the motives, values, and legitimacy of the Republicans.
It was all anyone could talk about the next day. People seemed genuinely taken aback (some people kept offering that since it was late at night, in a bar, it didn’t quite count) that one of their own might have violated the accepted codes of lofty liberal behavior. There was a little current of fear at the sudden recognition that testosterone could fuel politics. It was a shock, apparently, that we might be this close to real feelings. That politics could actually be personal.
Why is there no one else in the Democratic Party who can do this? Where are the masters of rhetoric, the Marc Anthony’s who can inspire a revolution with their words? Where is the courageousness? The zeal, the spirit of truly contagious leadership?
Now on to part two of this post. I was intrigued to read just a few minutes ago that Matt Drudge says Clinton may indeed run for president. Not Bill Clinton, but his wife Hillary.
I have a lot of respect for Hillary, though I never found her to come anywhere near her husband in terms of speaking skills, leadership or sheer intelligence. Still, looking at the rather depressing roster of Democratic possibilities, this could really liven things up. (Wesley Clark seems like an interesting possibility as well, though from here it’s hard to gauge how Americans are reacting to him.)
Could Hillary be the one to add some much-needed fire to the race? I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Right now I can’t imagine Dean or Kerry actually beating Bush. Whoever’s going to stand a chance will have to be able to do what Bill Clinton did in the above example, ignite passion and inspire awe. Can Hillary do it? I’m not sure yet. But I’d sure like to find out. Please Hillary, throw your hat into the ring and show us what you can do.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.