Clinton changed the landscape
  By David Nyhan, Boston Globe Columnist

ELVIS IS LEAVING the building.
Like that other white son of the South, a working-class boy with the great
shock of hair and the wiggily pelvis and the uncanny ability to connect,
Bill Clinton out of Hope, Ark., changed the landscape of popular culture.

Things are not the same for his having taken over the scene. He barged onstage
with a desperate energy; he simply would not be denied. He did what he had to do
and overcame everything they threw at him. Smarter when he had to be smarter,
tougher when he had to be tougher, meaner when he had to be meaner,
the Comeback Kid made more comebacks than Frank Sinatra.

And if it weren't for one slim paragraph of something called the 22d Amendment,
adopted 50 years ago next month, that begins ''No person shall be elected to the
office of president more than twice,'' he might not be moving out tomorrow.
Instead, he shoves off the presidential dock with a job approval rating of 66 percent,
the highest for any exiting president since they began charting this in the late '30s.

His enemies rail still. They argue he'll be remembered for ''I did not have sexual relations
with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky,'' instead of a mountain of substantive achievement.

He began, in 1993, without a single Republican vote in Congress, to reduce the deficit,
which had spiked under Reagan and got no healthier under Bush the First. When Clinton
finally persuaded maverick Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska to give him the vote he needed,
the cork came out of the bottle.

The record: largest federal surplus ever;
22 million new jobs;
lowest unemployment in 30 years;
home ownership at a record 67 percent,
with an average mortgage payer saving $2,000 a year because inflation and interest rates went down.
Crime, poverty, welfare rolls, all down.
Foreign trade off the charts,
100,000 more cops on the street,
student financial aid doubled,
and more federal lands are protected than by any president since Teddy Roosevelt.

The world's at peace, and Clinton is without question the most popular political leader
on the face of the earth. Except at home.

CNN editor Randy Lilleston had a nifty phrase for how his enemies tried to light him up:
''political arc-welding.'' They tried to juice him and jig him and jolt him every way possible,
from the day he looked able to topple 12 years of Republican rule.
''Skirt-chasing draft-dodger'' didn't stop him.

Whitewater snagged others, but not Bill & Hill.
Filegate, Travelgate, Whatever-gate, came and went like summer storms.
Impeachment almost got him. All the huffing and puffing got an exhaustive airing.
Wars came and went, governments elsewhere fell, the Republicans got all lathered up.

The fund-raising scandals helped lick Al Gore, no doubt. The GOP ran against Clinton more
than Gore, and the junior varsity couldn't win the big game.

Now there is much sonorous preaching from the conservative wing about honor and integrity and
morality being back in the saddle. Let us devoutly pray they are right. But I am leery of
the party that proclaims its morality as the cash register rings. The sachems of the GOP bring
back with them the politics of the religious right, the business class, and the already rich.
That's why it's hard to reconcile morality and Mammon. We'll see.

Clinton skated right by, over, and through his enemies in the media:
The Wall Street Journal,
Rupert Murdoch's Fox-in-the-henhouse TV claque,
the conservatives who control most media empires,
the bellowing blowhards of right-wing radioland.
They hate him; they are still confounded by him; and they couldn't let go,
even when Gore tried to edge into the target zone.

There have been plenty of occasions when I've been peeved with Will-yum
Jefferson C., but he has been right a lot more than he has been wrong, and what
always makes me forgive him was the way he fought his way in and then fought
his foes once he got there. To win he blew his sax, wore sunglasses, went on
''60 Minutes'' with Hillary to prevent getting blown up at the starting line.

He survived Gennifer and Paula and Monica; they came and went, and Hillary
endures, now in the Senate, owner of two private homes and a lush book contract.
Bill spends tomorrow night in the trim suburban shack in Chappaqua, Night One of
the rest of his life, at 54 our newest AARP guy, still restless, still relentless, a house-hubby.

If Colin Powell has made $27 million since becoming famous in the Gulf War,
knocking down $60K per speech, what's Bill Clinton's earning potential?

Like the other Elvis, his is a crossover act. One took the blues and Negro spirituals
and made rock 'n' roll. The other took the best of the old Democratic coalition
fashioned it into the New Democrat movement, and synthesized the new politics.

He leaves a government smaller than any president had since Eisenhower.
He beat back the gun guys and the tobacco boys, the oil gang and the pharmaceutical barons.
He won on budgets, lost on health care, and is so strong on race that a black poetess
branded him ''the first black president.''

I heard a supposed expert dismiss Clinton's role on racial healing as inconsequential;
black America disagrees, by 10-1. That case is closed.
His critics blame him for the coarsening of the culture. They feel very, very superior.
He shrugs, telling the Arkansas Legislature's home boys, ''I am more idealistic than the day I entered office.''

Now the Big Guy is out of work. He leaves the White House, Air Force One, the
limo world, Camp David, and our TV sets, where he set up shop eight years ago
and dwelt in our metaphoric hearth, an inescapable icon of our daily routine.
No more hourly updates about what Clinton's up to.

Noontime tomorrow, it's over: Elvis has left the building.
I miss him already.

Bring back Bubba.

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