The Manhattan Project
T hrough the long spring, Clinton sank deeper and deeper into that dark mood his people referred to tactfully as self-absorption. The field was his at last, but to aides exposed to his flashes of temper and fits of brooding, nothing else in his situation seemed to please him. In what ought to have been the crowning moment of his lifetime in politics, he turned inward, cultivating his sense of victimization by the establishment and, most particularly, its propagandists in the press.
The warm gaze and the rueful smile survived only for public consumption. Off-camera, Clinton was cranky and hard to be around. He upbraided his management team for being too traditional, too bureaucratic, too slow. He complained about being overscheduled when what he really needed was time on the ground to read, think, talk policy, and work on his speeches. He called a senior aide one night and flew into a paint-peeling fury at his media strategy -- or, as he felt, his lack of one. He dawdled over the hard personnel decisions he would have to make to get his message out and to impose peace on the quarreling power centers within his campaign.
What he could not seem to acknowledge was the possibility that the problems began with him -- that his quest for the presidency would go under if he didn't somehow allay the unresolved doubts about himself. When he addressed those questions at all, his tendency was to blame the questioners, to rail against a process whose apparent objective, he said, was to chew up all the candidates and spit them out. At an event in Florida one day, a couple of students asked him to explain his claim that he had once tried marijuana but didn't inhale it, and he exploded. "There is no trust issue," he said, "except the press once again trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.... I think I've done a pretty good job being an imperfect person who tried to follow the real moral obligation of life, which is to do better tomorrow than you did today. What you're seeing is what you get, and if you don't want it, vote for Bush. Because this is crazy. Vote for Bush and vote for four more years of America going down the tubes."