The Hunt for a Clinton Legacy

Article excerpt

OUR READERS WILL RECALL THAT IN FEBRUARY,S Last Call we launched the Clinton Legacy contest, designed to identify the words or phrases that, in the centuries to come, will best recall and sum up the William Jefferson Clinton presidency. We asked you to comb your memories and databases and to submit the expression, whether uttered by the Big He himself or one of his disciples, accomplices, or victims, that will best epitomize this man, his leadership, and the sense of his era. Our expectations have been exceeded by your energy and creativity, and entries continue to pour in. In order to inspire your continued efforts, and in response to many of your suggestions, we reproduce in this space some of the entries that we have received so far.

MANY OF YOU WERE DRAWN TO the same memorable Clinton gems. Thus, the president's carefully scripted Lewinsky denial complete with gestures, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," is in a virtual tie with his brilliant and apparently spontaneous circumlocution during his grand jury testimony, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." In third place, so far, is the president's promise of the "most ethical administration in the history of the Republic," followed closely by the empathetic, "I feel your pain," employed as an all-purpose slogan by the president in a variety of contexts, and his plaintive entreaty to the captured Paula Jones, "kiss it!" An emerging favorite is "I honor her."

BUT THIS CONTEST WILL NOT BE DECIDED BY the most oft-submitted entry, and the words we remember most today may not be the ones that school children will commit to memory in the twenty-first century, so we are paying keen attention to those Clinton or FOB utterances that, while not as widely cited, nevertheless capture the essence of Clinton. The first lady's invention of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" is certainly in the running, as is the vice president's not-guilty plea to violating criminal campaign finance laws by citing "no controlling legal authority." The same is true of the president's campaign to end "the politics of personal destruction." In the immortal words of Mrs. Clinton, as recalled by Jan Beck of Seattle, Washington, "It's not going to be easy redefining who we are as human beings in this post-modern world. …