Oh Danny Boy
And then he left. Others came and went, but we all solemnly agreed that there would never be another one like Danny.
The parable neatly overlays on the relationship between Bill Clinton and the reporters who covered him, except for the fact that Danny was never in danger of becoming the leader of the free world. Clinton was only a slightly more probable candidate for the job, and look what happened: eight long years, a gorgeous mosaic of headlines, and enough "no shit" stories to stoke careers and ignite ambitions. By dragging the country to the brink of constitutional crisis through his own incautiousness, Clinton made the political beat a legitimate career path in journalism once again.
Our only comfort, and it's a small one, is that he will miss us more than we will miss him. The ancillary, vestigial zone of infamy he is about to enter will do nothing to sate his craven need to be seen and heard. For Bill Clinton, the hard part starts the day George W. Bush puts his hand on the Bible and swears to be everything his predecessor wasn't. Clinton eats scenery with his every breath, and the very idea that he will somehow be able to resize himself for an adjacent existence is laughable. He is the least qualified political wife in the history of Western civilization.
If you pulled in real close when he was in one of his occasional dark moods, I'm sure the president would say it will be nice to walk the earth without someone's boot constantly up his ass, but he will miss the intimacy of it all. This is a man who checked the headlines every morning of his adult life to find out who he was on any given day. He's gonna have a big ol' case of the now-whats when the press starts putting its hands up the next guy's skirt.
It isn't that Clinton has any intrinsic affection for or interest in reporters. Unlike a lot of presidents, he never had serious familiars in the press corps--unless you count Sidney Blumenthal, and Sid went native early on, taking a job with the administration. But Clinton doesn't have Spiro Agnew's (or Hillary's) special hatred of the press either. He's always viewed the media as a very blunt, crude force that stood between him and the public he wanted to get his mitts on. Clinton was so large in presentation, and so beautifully pitched, that the press could never manage to show him actual size. It's as if the press served as an inverted megaphone, with Clinton shouting into the big end and a much less impressive noise coming out the small end.
Still, he never gave up. This was the most poll-taking, press-conference-giving, policy-point-lecturing president the country has ever seen. The White House press corps, grown used to a guy who could fill out its daybook with a flick of the wrist, is in for some significant culture shock. George W. Bush shares his father's quiet loathing of the press--after all, he watched as it gleefully tore Daddy's limbs off just shy of a second term. The son hasn't forgotten the slights against the father, and a pattern of press parsimony is already in full effect. Apart from the relentless infighting sure to erupt between a weak White House and a Cabinet full of practiced Beltway hands, there will be no ongoing libretto from Pennsylvania Avenue. The briefing room will be full of tight-quartered hand-to-hand combat just to get something, anything resembling news. And the election demonstrated that Bush's team is well aware that putting the Random Aphorism Generator in Chief out there for a lot of unalloyed press moments isn't really in the national interest.
As for Clinton . . . even though his 15 minutes lasted eight years, without the POTUS overlay he will shrink back into the needy rustic who came out of nowhere. Bill Clinton will have all the post hoc appeal of Richard Hatch, both of them etched in our minds as bloated, naked figures whose triumphs and abasements seem like a badly remembered dream: What was all that about again?
David Carr covers newspapers and magazines for Inside.com.
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