The Look of a Winner
L uck is a precious element in politics, worth more than a seven- point program or an eighteen-carat smile, and in the autumn of his ascent, Bill Clinton seemed to be garlanded with four-leaf clovers. Mario Cuomo had kindly got out of his way, along with the rest of the Democratic first team. So had Jesse Jackson, a torment to the party and its white-bread nominees for nearly a decade. Clinton's remaining competition looked a great deal less than formidable. The media, for a season, seemed smitten with him; the smell of success is aphrodisiac, and just so long as Clinton looked like a winner, young, bright, exciting, and amply monied, his notices were as warm as first love.
But fortune had blessed him rather too much too soon. Clinton was like a talented rookie who had not yet seen his first big-league curve ball; all he had shown so far -- all he had had time to show -- were the easy heroics of the batting cage. In the standard-issue commentaries of the op-editorialists, the late start of the campaign was declared a mercy for the country after the tiresome two- and three-year marathon runs of our recent past. In fact, the shortened season damaged most of the candidates and would nearly destroy Clinton, propelling him to the head of the class before he himself was ready or anyone else knew who he was.
His indefinition, indeed, would prove to be his greatest single vulnerability; it meant, as things worked out, that America would first get to know him through the least flattering moments of his past. The myth of Bill Clinton was that he had been plotting his climb to the presidency forever. The truth was that his real preparation for the race had been mostly intellectual, his long soak in the literature of economics and public policy, and in the early going, his speeches showed it; they were like cold oatmeal, good for you, perhaps, but leaden and lumpy going down. He hadn't bothered introducing himself before he started talking, which gave his new ideas a disembodied sound. The merit badges he won for being Mister Substance gave way with time and repetition to the complaint that he was a walking syllabus of