Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Ever-Ready Candidate

[[M E D I A]] * Excuse me if I’m a bit behind in my reading, but it was only a few days ago that I received the August 22 edition of New York magazine, and only yesterday that I got around to relishing Jennifer Senior’s cover piece, “Bill Clinton’s Plan for World Domination.” First off, kudos are due Senior for this remarkably well-textured capture in print of America’s 42nd president. Although my favorite portrayal of “the most dynamic political figure of our time” continues to be Michael Paterniti’s “The Last Will and Testament of William Jefferson Clinton,” which appeared in the December 2000 issue of Esquire (but isn’t available online except by purchase), Senior paints the Man from Hope in all his intense, energetic, and occasionally touchy post-presidential glory. As she explains, Clinton is still (at 59 years old) too vital and interested to follow some of his predecessors into a retirement of golf clubs and investment company sinecures. Yet, she notes, “to involve himself too heavily in [U.S.] politics would look petty and small.” So instead, backed up by aides de camp from his old administration, he travels around the world trying to do good: leading efforts by his foundation to fight the AIDS/HIV epidemic in Africa; acting as the UN’s point man for tsunami reconstruction in Indonesia and Sri Lanka; and hosting, in mid-September, the Clinton Global Initiative, a conference aimed at enlisting the cooperation of “moguls, heads of state, and problem-solvers” in doing “something about bettering the world.”

“For the former president,” Senior writes, the Global Initiative is “finally a chance to press forward, to shore up his legacy--to throw an inaugural ball, really, for his third term.
Before this moment, Clinton hadn’t had a career so much as big projects to complete: millions in legal bills to pay off; a $180 million library to design, curate, and pay for (it’s still not paid for); a $10 million autobiography to write; and, most unexpectedly, two heart surgeries from which to recover.

No longer. Clinton, the man people accused of trying to be everything to everyone, can now embrace just that role, recasting himself in purely global terms. Since leaving the White House, he has traveled to 67 countries. On this African sweep, he manages to squeeze in six in seven days. “I think there are three people who are universal, whose prestige truly extends way over borders,” says Hernando de Soto, the Peruvian economist and author of
The Mystery of Capital (and a key participant in the CGI). “There’s Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, and Clinton. The problem with Kofi is that he leads the world’s biggest bureaucracy. And Mandela is basically an African. He’s never had something to say about Asia. He’s never said, ‘I like mambo.’ Strangely, the only one who does this is Clinton, and he doesn’t even speak a foreign language.”
Clinton always comes off the optimist, always wanting to do something better, something beyond what others believed was possible--even when the scope of his hopes seems naïvely broad. It will certainly be interesting to see where his post-presidency takes him. If not into the secretary general’s office of the UN (an unlikely expectation, since Asia stands in line to pick Kofi Annan’s replacement), then perhaps into many more international assignments on behalf of the UN, or on behalf of his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, should she become, in 2008, the first woman elected to the White House.

I guarantee you’ll learn a lot from New York’s Clinton profile.

1 comment:

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