A Question of Character
     by Gene Lyons

 In a recent column eulogizing Sen. Paul Wellstone, Washington Post columnist David Broder
 told a story that revealed a side of Bill Clinton known to thousands of Arkansans, but mostly
 ignored by the press.

 While critical of Clinton's behavior, Wellstone explained to Broder during the 2000 campaign
 why he couldn't condemn him personally: "Two years earlier...Clinton came to Minnesota at
 the end of a long day of stumping for Democratic candidates in three states. Wellstone had
 sent word to the White House that he would have with him, in the airport receiving line,
 a constituent who was a great political buff and was now facing terminal cancer.
 If the president could spend a minute with him, it would be wonderful.

"It was near midnight when Clinton came off the plane. Wellstone introduced the constituent
 and the president said he would be right back. 'And then,' Wellstone said, 'he took us into the
 holding room in the hangar, and for 45 minutes, at the end of a day that had started before
 dawn for him in Washington, they talked. Clinton never said a word about his illness, but
 he talked about every issue in the news and listened to everything my constituent had to say.
 It was the greatest gift he could have given him.'"

 Broder says Wellstone's "appreciation for the human quality in others," explains why the Minnesota
 Senator was beloved by Republicans and Democrats alike. It's a pity it took his death for Broder to
 acknowledge Clinton's compassion. How many times has he returned to Arkansas from halfway
 around the world to attend funerals nobody would have criticized him for missing?

 A dear friend who'd taken ill years ago was flabbergasted to get a call from the president, interrupting
 Middle East peace talks to console and encourage her. Colleagues teased her with fake messages
 from the Pope and other dignitaries for days. Me, I'd been "too busy" with my own terribly important
 duties, leaving things to my wife. Another friend was moved at getting a surprise condolence call after
 Clinton saw his mother's obituary in the newspaper. Neither friend is a public figure, nor active in politics,
 merely ordinary Arkansans whose lives Bill Clinton had touched.

 Attacking Al Gore for questioning President Junior's plans to attack Iraq, syndicated columnist Charles
 Krauthammer mocked him for allegedly consulting Hollywood's Rob Reiner, or "Meathead," as he put it.
 A local columnist thought this a brilliant putdown.

 Pardon me, but wasn't Ronald Reagan an actor?

 Second, "Meathead" was a fictional character on a TV program my young sons called "The Man Like
 Grandpa Show." He got the nickname from Archie Bunker, a comical bigot.

 Third, the real Rob Reiner has directed "A Few Good Men," "When Harry Met Sally," "Stand by Me,"
 "Spinal Tap" and several other terrific films. Believe me, directing movies requires an order of magnitude
 more skill and brainpower than writing newspaper columns. Patronizing Reiner makes this duo look like,
 well, meatheads.

 Although raised Catholic, I doubted the doctrine of Papal Infallibility the first time I heard it. Even so,
 when Irish singer Sinead O'Connor shredded a photograph of Pope John Paul II on "Saturday Night Live"
 in 1992, I thought she'd gone bonkers. The controversy wrecked her career. A recent Salon profile,
 however, reminded me why she did it: to protest the then-obscure issue of the church's cover-up of
 child sex abuse. Who's crazy now? Sometimes, see, it takes girl with a shaved head and combat boots
 to speak the truth to power. I'm buying Sinead's new CD; I figure we all owe her that much.

 Back when I started this gig in 1994, friends asked me what kind of rinky-dink outfit sought a columnist
 to represent a "liberal" views, then wrote editorials sneering at him for doing so. I answered that personal
 invective had a long history at the Democrat-Gazette; I'd have been naïve to expect anything else. Besides,
 I'd rarely lost a name-calling contest. I figured I could hold my own without too much strain. Take last
 week's boldly anonymous Democrat-Gazette editorial calling me "scuzzy" for questioning Randi Hutchinson's
 virtue. Excuse me, make that "Miss Randi." A gentlemen should always patronize a lady when engaging her
 in public controversy.

 So Miss Randi gives a speech to a bunch of church ladies saying nobody should hold her husband's "personal life"
 against him, and I'm supposed to pretend she's talking about stamp collecting or model airplanes? Only Mr.
 Anonymous could fail to see how ridiculous he looks invoking tastefulness and decorum after spending a decade
 focused on Bill Clinton's zipper like a laser beam. Sen. Hutchinson and his editorial page chums went out
 crusading for a showdown on the "character" issue. Now they're shocked and horrified that they got one.

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