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 Slick Willie and Gauche George 

November 17, 2005 
Talk radio, a partisan Republican stronghold, is in the throes of a conniption about its ancient enemy, Bill Clinton. Speaking at the American University of Dubai, he said the obvious: Today's column is "Slick Willie and Gauche George" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.that the invasion of Iraq was “a big mistake.”

Former presidents aren’t supposed to criticize the foreign policy of their successors. This is a free country, and Clinton as a private citizen is entitled to his opinion, but it was unpatriotic, undignified, unbecoming, and downright depraved of him to do it, especially in a foreign country.

Never mind whether Clinton was right. Never mind that Republicans in Congress are having second thoughts — out loud — about the war. Never mind that people are dying, and that he may have helped save lives. Never mind that he might have been quoting his own predecessor, the current president’s father, who wrote a book his son seems not to have read, in which he explained that in the first Iraq war he refrained from toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime because it would have been, well, a big mistake.

President George W. Bush’s biological father may be President George Herbert Walker Bush, but his spiritual father is Vice President Dick Cheney, whose whereabouts have often been kept secret, especially lately. This war was Cheney’s bright idea as much as anyone’s. As scandal and shame swirl about him, history offers some reassurance: no American vice president has ever been impeached.

I recently mentioned a firm conservative, a Vietnam vet and former CIA man (he has probably never voted for a Democrat in his life), who agreed with his conservative friends that the current President Bush makes the Clinton years seem like a Golden Age. He didn’t mean that he and his friends have become liberals; he meant almost the opposite: that Bush is operationally more liberal, by conservative standards, than Clinton was.

Under which president has government grown more? Case closed.

[Breaker quote for Slick Willie and Gauche George: Clinton speaks out, at last.]George Will wonders whether the limited government conservatives have always yearned for is even a possibility, or whether it’s as much a fantasy as any socialist utopia. It has taken Bush and the Republicans to make conservatives ask such questions. The GOP no longer even feigns concern about such traditional themes as deficits, runaway spending, balanced budgets, and ruinous debt.

Gone with the wind are such old grouches as Bob Dole, who greeted every proposed boondoggle with the predictable growl, “Who’s gonna pay for it?” All that remains of the tight-fisted GOP we once knew is the reflexive aversion to raising taxes, even as “no new taxes” becomes as hollow a promise as “no new hurricanes.”

Republicans insisted that Clinton was a liberal, even a Sixties radical at heart, and they scorned his pose as a centrist. In fact, he was a cautious politician, if not always a cautious husband, and after a dismal attempt to create a national health-care program, he reconciled himself to the kind of limits Bush has contemned. Even his wars were so cautious they are hardly remembered today. He was a centrist, not in the sense that he compromised his principles — he never had any — but in his infallible instinct for playing it safe.

So when Clinton criticizes the Iraq war, we may reasonably conclude that he thinks it’s now become safe to do so. If he has gone further than his ambitious wife, he is not unmindful of her career and has presumably cleared everything with her. He can send an anti-war signal to her liberal Democratic base while acting as a lightning rod for any Republican anger. Nobody ever said he was dumb. Marginally diabolical, maybe; stupid, no. The cocky Republicans who once thought they could outsmart him, like Newt Gingrich, are now lying in a ditch somewhere.

After his sex scandals, impeachment, and last-minute pardons and peculations, the Republicans assumed that Clinton was in permanent disgrace, discredited forever, like Herbert Hoover. But in today’s America, no disgrace is permanent. Clinton is the eternal Comeback Kid, and this is the age of reinvention.

Besides, Slick Willie doesn’t look so bad after five years of Gauche George; you start to appreciate a guy who can save his own skin when you realize you’re a passenger on a kamikaze mission, which is what the Bush administration feels like.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2005 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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