Friday, January 19, 2001

Goodbye, President Clinton: We love/hate to see you go




By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        To say America is of two minds about Bill Clinton, who gave the benediction to his own presidency in a televised speech Thursday night, is putting it mildly.

        “We're schizoid over this fellow,” said Norman Thomas, retired professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati. “Americans love him and hate him at the same time.”

        Few presidents came so close to the edge of political oblivion so many times and came back so many times.

        “He truly was what he said he was — "the comeback kid,'” Mr. Thomas said.

        Now, only hours from the moment he will transfer the power he has wielded in the Oval Office over to George W. Bush, this president — scandals, mistakes, triumphs and all — leaves office with a higher job approval rating than any departing president in half a century.

        An ABC News-Washington Post poll released Thursday showed Mr. Clinton with a job approval rating of 65 percent.

        At the same time, the same poll showed that while Americans overwhelmingly approve of his performance as president, they have grave doubts about his character. About three out of four people said Mr. Clinton “lacks high moral and ethical standards.”

        How, then, has he been able to not only survive but flourish?

        “Bill Clinton is a person filled with all of these contradictions, and people have all of these questions about him and the things he has done,” said U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio.

        “But he undeniably has this concern for people which is genuine, and it comes through,” said Mr. Strickland, who represents most of southern Ohio.

        Even an impeachment trial on charges that he lied to a grand jury about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky failed to make much of a dent in how the public perceived him as president, although it took a toll on how they see him as a man.

        “The guy seems to be so amoral that it doesn't even register with him that he did anything wrong,” said Jim North, a historian at Cincinnati Bible College. “He seems to be oblivious to it.”

        Much of the public, Mr. North said, was willing to look the other way at Mr. Clinton's personal failings as long as the economy was humming along.

        U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, one of the 14 House members who argued the case against Mr. Clinton in his Senate trial, said he thinks Mr. Clinton will not be able to escape harsh judgment from history for the Lewinsky affair and his impeachment.

        “It will be a significant part of his legacy, whether he likes it or not,” said Mr. Chabot, who represents western Hamilton County.

        Mr. Thomas agreed that no history of the Clinton presidency will be written without impeachment “very high up.”

        But, Mr. Thomas said, Mr. Clinton will also be remembered as a president who remained popular throughout it all, mainly because of his extraordinary political skills.

        “He has very, very acute and superbly honed political instincts, the best since Franklin Roosevelt,” Mr. Thomas said.

       



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