Thursday, October 2, 1997
History, not high school yearbook, will decide Clinton's legacy

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bill Clinton is the luckiest man in America. Not because Vice President Al Gore is taking more heat for fund-raising misdeeds than his boss. And not because Mr. Clinton might dodge the Paula Jones bullet. I say that because he went back to his 33rd high school reunion as president of the United States.

Most of us would be satisfied if we could just go back in more or less the same weight division. With more or less our original teeth.

The golden boy

Mr. Clinton returned to his old high school in a limousine, not a minivan or a station wagon. He reported to the stage tanned, buffed up and with a full head of hair. His kid is in a good school, and his wife still fits into her wedding dress.

He has his finger on the button and could turn us all - including the playground bully - into charcoal briquettes if he chose. He has been seen in the company of Barbra Streisand and Tiger Woods. Does it get any better than this?

The Associated Press described him as "the golden boy who led the band." A half dozen cheerleaders from the Class of 1964, attired in flared skirts and saddle shoes, stormed the stage and hugged Mr. Clinton.

Now, I don't know how it was in Hot Springs, Ark., 33 years ago, but in Lima, Ohio, where I went to school, the cheerleaders wouldn't storm the stage for anybody less than the quarterback of the football team.

The future commander in chief was remembered as the student who often was let out of classes to speak to the Optimists or the Elks about his White House meeting with John F. Kennedy, which consisted of about a two-second handshake and a photo op. He was with a bunch of Boys Nation delegates, at the head of the pack by dint of long legs and perhaps the first recorded instance of dork walking.

Biographer David Maraniss says Mr. Clinton, who graduated fourth in a class of 363, was regarded by teachers as a model youth. Again, I don't know how things worked in Hot Springs, but if teachers at our high school went around saying that one of the boys was a "model youth," that was good for a public de-pantsing.

Or a wedgie, at the very least.

Instead, Mr. Clinton's classmates want to name the school after him.

The president was the headliner for a reunion last weekend of all graduates of Hot Springs High School, which closed its doors in 1990. Now the city wants to turn the 83-year-old, red-brick school into the William Jefferson Clinton Cultural Campus, a commercial arts center and Clinton museum.

Fund-raisers R Us

It was a fund-raiser, something for which the First Graduate and Band Leader has demonstrated a certain aptitude. Plus, he apparently harbors a little-known passion for the arts. "One of the things that has most bothered me," he said, "is the dramatic decline in the offerings in the arts, in music and other performing arts, in the visual arts."

This probably explains why Ted Danson spent the night in the Lincoln bedroom.

Mr. Clinton told his classmates modestly that he didn't think he was old enough for the honor. "But if it helps raise another nickel, I accept and I thank you. I'm profoundly honored."

As well he might be.

For those of us who join him at the head of the line of Baby Boomers, he was the signal that, finally, we were in charge. He took over from a man who fought in World War II, just like our fathers. He had his doubts about the Vietnam War, just like us. He tried to smoke dope and he listened to our music. His wife worked "outside the home."

We all have selective memories of ourselves in high school. It's probably the only thing that saves us from a life on Prozac. And class reunions are the ideal place to succeed, to update history, if not rewrite it. The nerd is a computer millionaire. The ugly duckling is a swan.

We'd be proud if the Class of 1964's "golden boy" is remembered for more than Whitewater or John Huang or a seven-seat, 31-jet hot tub on the South Lawn of the White House. But history books have tougher standards than yearbooks.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.