Senator Clinton?

By Nicholas, John | The Progressive, October 1997 | Go to article overview

Senator Clinton?


Nicholas, John, The Progressive


On January 20, 2001, after smiling gracefully through the inauguration of his successor, William Jefferson Clinton will begin a retirement very different from that of most ex-Presidents.

That afternoon, he will board a plane back to his native Arkansas. He will take a few discreet weeks of down time, then set up shop in Hope. Americans will hear of his morning walks, which will take him the few blocks from his new home to the office he has rented, the one with the simple sign outside that reads, "Bill Clinton--Attorney at Law." Reporters will ask how it feels to go from being the most powerful man in the world to being a simple country lawyer. "Great," Clinton will reply, quoting his hero, Thomas Jefferson, to the effect that the Presidency is an act of service one gives one's country, not an imperial designation, as some would have it.

Clinton will practice little law, spending most of his time completing the first volume in a set of memoirs--which will pay all of his outstanding legal bills and position him comfortably in the nation's millionaire class. Then, after the briefest retirement, he will surprise America by announcing that he has chosen to answer the call of his home-state Democratic Party. "Reluctantly, at the urging of my friends, my family, and my Party, I have decided to run for the United States Senate."

Elected overwhelmingly by Arkansans, Clinton will begin the first of many terms in that most august of legislative bodies.

Farfetched? Hardly, says veteran Clinton watcher Ernest Dumas, the former political writer for the Arkansas Gazette. "No one who has seriously followed Bill Clinton's political career can imagine him not running for office again," says Dumas, now a college professor and must-read political columnist in Little Rock. "It's probably a Senate race. But whatever contest it is, there'll be another race. That's Clinton's way."

Michael Dorris was even more certain. "He's definitely going to run for Senate," the author of The Broken Cord told The Progressive two months before he committed suicide. Dorris, who was a friend of Clinton's for more than twenty years, suggested he had heard this from the Clintons themselves.

It wouldn't surprise Paul Greenberg the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial-page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "I think he's going to run for public office again, and I certainly wouldn't rule out a run for the Senate," says Greenberg, who has been keeping track of Clinton for twenty-five years. "Whenever I say this, people give me strange looks. But once you've watched Clinton long enough, you start to understand how the man operates. The one thing that you always come back to with Bill Clinton is that he so enjoys running for office."

No doubt about that, says Dumas. "Obviously, there are no higher posts than President," he says. "So if he's going to stay active, he has to go down the ladder. And, as steps down the ladder go, the Senate's a pretty comfortable one."

For those who still seek an explanation for Clinton's lack of principle in dealing with a Republican Congress and the insatiable demands of corporate special interests, his unceasing ambition (even on a downward ladder to the Senate) provides one.

"There was this thought--you heard it expressed all the time by all sorts of different people during last year's Presidential campaign--that after Bill Clinton won this last election he would be liberated and move to the left," reflects veteran activist David Mixner, a political and personal confidant of Clinton's for almost thirty years. "But he's even moved further to the right of center. He isn't acting like a lame-duck President. He's acting like somebody who has another election coming."

Americans are not accustomed to considering second-term Presidents as anything more than lame ducks. Since World War II, the only Presidents who finished a full two terms in the White House were Dwight Eisenhower, who retired at age seventy-one after having suffered a heart attack and a serious stroke, and Ronald Reagan, who hung up his political spurs at seventy-seven in the early stages of a devastating bout with Alzheimer's.

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