Bill Clinton needs to find way to lose that other guy


April 12, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

There can be only one explanation: There are two Bill Clintons.

There is the Bill Clinton who seems to have attended ethics classes taught by Richard Nixon.

This is the Bill Clinton who can't come clean. This is the Bill Clinton who leaps over unpleasant truths like Baryshnikov leaps across a stage.

Did Clinton ever take drugs?

Depends on what you mean. Depends on where you mean. Depends on whether he breathed in or out.

Did he ever evade a draft notice?

Depends on what you mean by evade. Or by draft notice.

Did he ever cheat on his wife?

Depends on what you mean by cheat.

And it just keeps going on.

Do any of these things, in and of themselves, really matter?

Probably not.

What does matter is that Clinton seems to develop a severe speech impediment when it comes to giving complete and forthright answers about his past and character.

And then there is the other Bill Clinton.

There is the Bill Clinton who is warm and funny and human. There is the Bill Clinton who sings "Don't Be Cruel" on the Charlie Rose television show and charms everyone watching.

There is the Bill Clinton who shows up late and tired at the Irish-American Presidential Forum in New York and then proceeds to stun the audience with his detailed knowledge of Northern Ireland.

I was there and it was a tough crowd: virtually every major Irish politician in New York and a panel of experts to do the questioning.

But this Southern Baptist from Arkansas (running against an Irish Catholic from California) stood tall in the batter's box and knocked hardballs for home runs.

What about the MacBride Principles? he was asked.

And Clinton began croaking in this hoarse voice: "You know my state is full of Irish-Americans, and I don't think anyone has ever asked me about the MacBride Principles."

And I figured he would say he would research the subject and get back to them.

But no. Clinton knows all about the MacBride Principles. (I had to look them up: Sean MacBride, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974, developed a list of fair employment standards for companies doing business in Northern Ireland.) Clinton likes the MacBride Principles. And he would be very willing to spend two or three hours discussing them.

But what about Joe Doherty? he was asked.

Ah, yes, Joe Doherty, the member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army whom the United States recently deported to the British prison he escaped from in 1981.

And when Clinton said he thought the U.S. government did not "respect our own laws" in deporting Doherty, the audience burst into prolonged applause.

But wait. Here, Clinton actually refused to pander.

"I am not going for an applause line here," he admonished the crowd. "If an extradition hearing had found for deportation, I would have deported him."

And all around the room, you could see heads nodding. They respected that answer and they respected Bill Clinton.

Clinton could have gotten all his knowledge about Northern Ireland from a briefing book. But that answer didn't come from a book. It came from a sense of principle.

So why can't we see more of this Bill Clinton?

Why can't we see more of the man who actually loves going into a crowd and meeting people?

Think this is a small thing? It is not. Most politicians loathe campaigning. They see it as beneath them. They hate begging for votes from people who know so little while they know so much.

But not Bill Clinton. Rarely have I seen a face light up as his does whenever he gets a chance to actually spend a few moments talking to a voter.

This is the other Bill Clinton. The Bill Clinton who can, by the way, stand around and do perfect play-by-play of the last 10 seconds of a college basketball game. "He shoots! He scores! Yes!"

This is the Bill Clinton who can talk with real passion about race in America and how both sides must lose their prejudices if we are to save this nation.

This is the Bill Clinton who, just possibly, just maybe, could become president of the United States.

If only he could get rid of that other guy.

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