President, mediator, sax player, ISO new role

September 25, 2000|By Bill Thomas

WASHINGTON -- Bill Clinton loves to campaign, only not for other people. What effect this may have on the current presidential race remains to be seen, but it does make you wonder what the Man from Hope has planned for an encore.

A few years ago there were rumors that Mr. Clinton was interested in a Supreme Court job after leaving the White House. William Howard Taft got one. Why couldn't he? But the Monica Lewinsky scandal, impeachment and a disbarment proceeding in Arkansas pretty much answered that question.

If a Supreme Court nominee once had to withdraw from consideration for rolling a few joints, imagine the fun Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee would have examining Mr. Clinton's qualifications.

Hollywood has also been mentioned as a possible career move. Friends like Steven Spielberg and David Geffen could set Mr. Clinton up in no time. The perks are obvious.

If a studio executive isn't fooling around at the office, he's not really working. In this case, though, the movie industry has one major drawback. Could Bill Clinton actually surrender the spotlight and all that goes with it to the Matt Damons and Ben Afflecks of the world? For someone who craves attention as much as Mr. Clinton, life as a motion picture mogul would be a torture almost as bad as playing house husband if Hillary wins her New York Senate race.

Not being the resort community type like Gerald Ford or a do-gooder like Jimmy Carter, Mr. Clinton's retirement options could be somewhat limited, especially if he intends to use the (presumably rent-free) apartment planned for upstairs at his Little Rock presidential library.

"Don't stop thinking about tomorrow," Clinton told Democratic Convention delegates in Los Angeles. This evocative quote from a Fleetwood Mac song may have been a nostalgic reference to his first nomination in 1992. But for ex-presidents "tomorrow" is too late to impress historians, and Mr. Clinton knows it.

Prohibited from running for the White House again, Mr. Clinton clearly is running for something, maybe the only thing that can help salvage some small portion of his wrecked political reputation -- the Nobel Peace Prize.

The precedent is there. Teddy Roosevelt won the coveted honor for his largely ceremonial role in ending the Russo-Japanese War. Mr. Clinton, who's keenly aware of what it takes to win votes from the prize committee, isn't wasting any time. In fact, he's busy doing what he does best. He's campaigning, and probably covering more miles in the process than George W. Bush and Al Gore combined.

With the paperwork no doubt completed, Mr. Clinton now must fulfill the other part of the peace prize requirement, namely, help -- or at least appear to help -- bring about peace.

At this late stage, any peace will do. A final Middle East accord would virtually put a lock on the prize, not to mention the half-million bucks in prize money Mr. Clinton will need for legal expenses, although he most likely would have to share a little of both with Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak.

But with the Israelis and Palestinians arguing over zoning problems in Jerusalem, Mr. Clinton and his advisers aren't exactly holding their breath. Maybe that explains the recent presidential visit to war-torn East Africa and the upcoming journey to newly troubled Southeast Asia, complete with a meaningful stopover in Vietnam?

Whether the prize patrol in Oslo, Norway, will be swayed by this desperate attempt to influence opinion is hard to say. But all of Mr. Clinton's flying from hot spot to hot spot has to be making Jesse Jackson wonder how long his job is safe.

Bill Thomas, the former editor of Capital Style magazine in Washington, is the author of "Club Fed: Power, Money, Sex and Violence on Capitol Hill" (Scribner's, 1994) and other books.

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