News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Friday, February 17, 2012

Is Bill Clinton really so passe?

I was drafting an open letter demanding Bill Clinton's resignation with some other people who were as exasperated as I was.These were people who had some political clout and could really generate pressure.  

It was over the Monica Lewinsky affair.  Our exasperation was that every time the nation went through a news cycle, it seemed that Bill Clinton was being accused of something,  And knowing that his opponents were on the constant alert for anything they could accuse him of, he had handed them a lewd and salacious event that promised to distract the nation for months and months.  We felt it was time for him to step aside and let Al Gore finish out the term.  

A prominent senator's office was in full knowledge of our plans.  Those of us involved received a request to put the letter on hold and meet with a Washington, D.C., staff member to discuss the letter before we sent it out.  He was a policy specialist in food and agriculture, who was working on some legislation that was of particular significance to South Dakota, but of great benefit to the U.S.

When we met with him, he explained the legislation and the politics needed to get it approved.  It was something that President Clinton had been much involved with, and the staff member said that despite the Lewinsky distraction, Bill Clinton was needed to finish the business, as well as many other areas of legislation he was involved with.  As angry and frustrated as Clinton made many people in his party, he was still needed to get the legislation done.  His departure would leave a void, and much progress would be lost as Al Gore worked up to speed on the issues. 

The staff member cautioned us not to get caught up in cable news-tabloid obsessions.  He said many people were disappointed in the president's actions and disapproved, but when it came down to the real work politics is supposed to accomplish, they needed him to finish the work they started with him.  Do not, the staff member advised, let your personal preferences and attitudes become obstacles to your goals.  You won't accomplish anything if you do.

After much discussion among those of us calling for Clinton's resignation, we grudgingly acknowledged the staff member's point and withdrew the letter.  The news media was not reporting on the fact that business had to go on in government as usual.  Many of the most exercised members of Congress were so caught up in the impeachment proceedings, that they left the real legislative work to staff members and agreed to legislation rather routinely to get it out of the way for what they really wanted:  a deposed president.

What  raises these memories of the Clinton era is the announcement of a PBS documentary "Clinton" which will be airing on public television Monday and Tuesday.  The Washington Post has a rather inane review of the documentary. It's premise is that the 1990s seem so old and passe.  The review has all the intellectual depth of a Gothic girl reviewing the flouncy fluff fashions of the 1950s. The reviewer is more concerned about asserting his au courant tastes than in assessing whether the program presents a coherent summation of the recent past.

Just the announcement of "Clinton" made me think about that incident in which I and some other people had to be educated in the difference between politics as carried out in tabloid headlines and politics as carried out by people who daily go to work to do well for the nation.  There is a huge difference.  And in the midst of a Republican primary season which has turned into a huge festival of the absurd, a review of the Clinton years will be very instructive. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States