It’s Good to be King

At the Democratic National Convention all the talk was of whether – or to what extent – Bill Clinton would overshadow designated candidate Al Gore. Having been in the hall for both speeches, I would say the Democratic delegates gathered in Staples Center – well to the left of the general run of Democrats, let alone the general population, even as GOP delegates in Philadelphia were to the right of the party – showed genuine affection mainly for Bill Clinton.

They wanted to cheer Al Gore – these hardened pols knew his speech was a TV show and the purpose was to communicate enthusiasm to the viewing public – but Gore kept plowing through the prepared speech, stepping on the applause and squelching it. Bill Clinton, consummate political narcissist that he is, had no such problem basking in the adulation of those who wanted to adulate.


The adulation came despite the fact that, as Andrew Sullivan put it in the 8/29-9/4 New Republic (in one of the few descriptions that was not only accurate but that I wish I had written), it was "a speech so stale in its rhetoric, so quotidian in its content, so laden with half-truths and glaring omissions that it ranked with Clinton’s most memorable concoctions of higher blather." According to Sullivan, Gore "seemed almost stunned by his boss’s vanity." In essence, said Mr. Sullivan:

"Clinton behaved as Clinton always behaves: with no sense of duty, propriety, or honor, and above all with no sense of responsibility for his own actions. Even now. Even after everything. Even when the country is more than willing to let go of the past, if Clinton would only let go of his own self-serving distortion of it. The one thing Clinton needed to do last week was take final responsibility for his actions and set Gore free. He didn’t. He never will."


Those who want to see Mr. Gore elected – or who would just like to see the country able to move on – had hoped that after the convention swan song Mr. Bill would fade quietly into the sunset. Those who had such hopes reckoned without the massive Clinton ego, or hoped even when hopes were unlikely to be redeemed. Not only is Mr. Clinton not fading, he is calling attention to himself on his image-polishing trip to Africa – followed by a trip to Colombia where he is also likely to receive undeserved plaudits this week.

Well, maybe Mr. Gore’s handlers are strict traditionalists who really believe that the "real" presidential campaign doesn’t start until Labor Day. So maybe this African trip didn’t set their teeth on edge. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

And I wouldn’t bet that the Boy President won’t indulge in a lot more foreign grandstanding between now and November. The theory that he is a narcissistic sociopath whose near-genius at retail politics is applied only to his own interests, his own ambitions, his own purposes and almost never to any purpose beyond his personal interests and ambitions looks more and more plausible.


Most of the media wanted to cooperate in making the president’s selfish gesture into something resembling a triumphal bit of legacy-building, with major newspapers featuring front-page photo-ops of the benign maximum leader being appreciated or even adored by throngs of attractive Africans. But as has happened more than once with this president (see the Middle East) a dogged determination to build a legacy by taking credit for the work and accomplishments of others doesn’t always pan out.

The hoped-for signing of a peace agreement for Burundi, which would have capped two years of negotiations presided over by former South African President Nelson Mandela (an effort to which Bill Clinton contributed almost nothing but a few words of encouragement) didn’t happen. Instead an interim agreement that the actual armed protagonists declined to sign was agreed to in an effort to save a bit of face.

Poor Sonya Ross of the Associated Press seemed terribly disappointed. "Going into its final leg, President Clinton’s journey to Africa seemed to be the stuff of legacies," she gushed in her report. "He had secured a place in Africa’s heart and history by visiting twice, and this time he could visit Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria, which moved from pariah to partner during his time in office."

Beyond the gush, the question I have when a presumed reporter writes a phrase like "he had secured a place in Africa’s heart and history," is "How could she possibly know?" followed by "How could she presume to imagine she knows?" Leaving aside the heart part (utterly unknowable) the trip is likely to be part of a comprehensive minute-by-minute African history if anybody ever writes it. Whether it will have anything resembling an historic impact is something nobody knows yet or will know for years.

Yet here are reporters concocting such blather. It’s hardly unusual, of course. Listen to any of those featured on the political chat shows and you’ll hear people blithely opining on "what the American people want" (something they couldn’t possibly know even if there were a cohesive entity known as "the American people") or "what our readers think" or are concerned about.

All right, I’ve been guilty from time to time. But I write on a page that has OPINION at the top in 72-point letters. And I hereby give anybody permission to scold me next time I presume to speak for others or to plumb the depths of a continent’s heart.


As Mr. Clinton was wending his way through parts of Africa where he could be guaranteed a godlike welcome, he was studiously avoiding a part of the continent where an apparently escalating war involving China, slavery and oil is heating up. The London Telegraph reported on Sunday that 700,000 Chinese troops were in Sudan, where the regime is keeping people in outright slavery and financing its depredations by exporting oil to China.

Among news outlets only seems especially interested in the conflict in Sudan Perhaps that’s because it is Christians being persecuted by an Islamic regime or perhaps it’s because it’s just not fashionable yet. But the conflict there, while it might not have as many victims yet as the Tutsi-Hutu war in Burundi, is real enough.

Perhaps we should be grateful that Sudan is not on President Clinton’s radar screen yet. A U.S. intervention there would be unlikely to end the slaughter and might involve this country in yet another endless conflict with no exit strategy. But the fact that the Chinese seem to be stirring up trouble in Africa whether or not it’s because the Chinese think the White House is bought and paid for as WorldNetDaily editor Joe Farah suggests might seem to be of passing interest.


No, Mr. Clinton travels to legacy-enhancing places. He flew to Cairo and made another attempt to jump-start Middle East peace negotiations before he has to leave office. From there it’s on to Colombia, where the United States is sending $1.3 billion in aid to fight drug traffickers and guerrillas, yet another splendid little war that is likely to cost a lot more in money and lives before US involvement is finally ended.

In Colombia, accompanied by Dennis Hastert, Madeleine Albright and "drug czar" Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Clinton will receive thanks from Colombian president Andres Pastrana (AP piece by Andrew Selsky). And he’ll probably get another photo-op with yet another poor person who wants to refer to him as "Saint Bill."

Seems Antonia Sarmiento, 73, has lived in the same one-room shack since 1948, but it’s near a new courthouse the president is supposed to dedicate. So Colombian officials have torn down the shack and put up a small brick house. Ms. Sarmiento has erected a shrine to the president of the Indispensable Nation and keeps two candles burning by his photograph.


In the movie "Titanic," the jejune fictional character played by Leonardo DiCaprio rides on the front of the ship briefly and declares, in his adolescent way, "I’m King of the World." It’s a moment of supreme silliness.

But it’s beginning to look as if the eternal adolescent who still infests the White House partakes of the same syndrome. He is still in office. And he still has the capacity to travel the world and be greeted as a proper king should be greeted, with adulation and gestures of hypocritical respect from other national leaders. If a trip happens to coincide with a positive development for which he can take credit, so much the better. But perhaps the real point is to bask in the roar of the crowd.

Dubya is unlikely to be much better and Gore is a horror. But it really is time for this one to go.

Author: Alan Bock

Get Alan Bock's Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana (Seven Locks Press, 2000). Alan Bock is senior essayist at the Orange County Register. He is the author of Ambush at Ruby Ridge (Putnam-Berkley, 1995).