It's time to call it a wrap, Mr. President

This Just In . . .

August 19, 1998|By Dan Rodricks

I think our president needs to set a new course for the rest of his life. Maybe he could grow tomatoes. If nothing is more important to him than family - isn't that what he said Monday night? - then he should take the rest of his presidency off and, with his wife, move to California, where they'd be closer to their daughter while she attends college. The Clintons could put out a shingle - Clinton & Clinton - and practice a little law, spend their weekends in seclusion for a while, mending and healing, maybe take up some hobbies. They could plant a little garden, listen to some Enya, sit on the porch and count the bobolinks (assuming they have bobolinks in California).

Sounds good, no?

Sounds holistic.

It is time - in fact, it is past time - to move on. Not to save the country. But to save his marriage, save his family (assuming it's not too late and, from what the first lady said yesterday, it might not be).

If I was a friend of Bill, I'd say: Call it a wrap, pal. Not so much because you lied. But because your family's taking a pounding. Only egomaniacs stay to the bitter end, as everything dear to them gets trashed.

But that would be a hard sell.

Clinton still sees himself as the Comeback Kid. He probably believes he can survive this mess.

Maybe he can. I don't know.

All I know is, no amount of "legacy" is worth the trashing of the lives of the people you love. And yet, this president appears to be willing to let that happen.

You could see it Monday night.

Even in his extraordinary act of contrition, Clinton appeared to be positioning himself to stay on, till some bitter finish.

Mostly, he seemed to be in a hurry to get the apology out of the way so he could have time to attack his persecutor, Kenneth Starr.

Why, instead of just doing the ole mea culpa, did Clinton offer the apology-attack combo?

Because he hates Starr's guts?

For sure, hatred is a powerful motivator.

But I think Clinton slipped in the punches at Starr because, as always, he's been clocking the polls. He knows what they say: The American people don't want to see their president driven from office for lying about his private life.

Clinton thinks he can ride that sentiment to a comeback. The tactic suggests a martyr complex. That's not a man who values his family above everything else.

"I must put it right, and I am prepared to do whatever it takes to do so. I intend to reclaim my family life for my family."

If he meant what he said, Clinton would have checked out of the White House by now. He would have asked his wife to go with him, too.

He's a smart guy. He should have seen where all this was going months ago, way back when the Supreme Court let the Paula Jones lawsuit go forward.

And then there's Starr, a true zealot from the right, totally out of control.

And the press, smelling blood.

Knowing what all that could mean to his family, Clinton could have walked away.

Few of us would have faulted the guy for saying: "I'm sorry, my fellow Americans, but I cannot subject my family to this painful and humiliating invasion of my private life. It's been a pleasure to serve you for six years. Now, put your hands together for the next president of the United States, the ole Tennessee walker himself, Al Gore."

Would that have made Clinton a quitter?

Yeah, but not in the bad sense of the term. In the good sense. People quit things all the time - drugs, booze, frustrating jobs, high-stress jobs - to save their families because they value their families above all else.

That's what Clinton said Monday night, right? He said: "Nothing is more important to me personally."

Right.

Tomatoes and a reunion

Our correspondent Joey Amalfitano reports:

"It's getting to be that sad time of the year, Dan, when we see Maryland's bounty lining window sills and shoved in the back of refrigerators. I'm talking tomatoes and the season, alas, is ending. My daughter, Lisa, gave me a bag of red beauties; friends leave them at our door. Around our casa, tomato sandwiches rule for days on end. Maxine cooked up a bucket of sauce. Just a reminder, that's all. Eat 'em if you got 'em. They won't be around for long.

"Speaking of Maxine ... She was like the queen of the prom last weekend at her 1967 North Harford High School class reunion. It was beautiful, held in Street, far from the noise and hustle of suburbia on Wilson's Farm in north county. Familiar but older faces greeted Maxine with smiles, hugs and the clicks of cameras. The aroma of cornfields, wild flowers and farm dung permeated the air. The highlight of the evening was the barn transformed into a dance hall with music from yesteryear, just like we used to hear at the Jarrettsville Teen Club in the '60s. There were green and gold streamers everywhere, photos of bygone years. Maxine glowed. A beautiful thing."

! Pub Date: 8/19/98

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