Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House - Carol Felsenthal (2008)
Chapter 3. GETTING SERIOUS, STUDYING THE LEGACY OF JIMMY CARTER
BILL CLINTON CAN’T STAND JIMMY CARTER.
“There are a few people who have offended him…on whom he never gives up, he never forgives,” says South Carolinian Don Fowler, who was Democratic National Committee chairman from 1992 to 1996 and is a friend of both Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.1
Yet Clinton could see what a remarkably productive postpresidency Carter had built for himself. When Lynn Cutler, who is close to both former presidents, is asked on whom Clinton modeled his post-White House life, she immediately replies, “Oh, there’s only one who has done anything—Carter.”2
Carter’s status on leaving the White House was as grim as Clinton’s. After losing to a grade-B movie actor, Carter was dismissed as incompetent, lacking in vision, a micromanager, and the kind of ridiculous figure who could go out fishing on a pond at his farm in Plains and get threatened by a “killer rabbit.” By the time Carter turned the White House over to Ronald Reagan, he had become almost a cartoon, a man who seemed to turn everything he touched into failure—the humiliating 444-day hostage crisis, gas lines, “malaise,” 21 percent interest rates, lectures about turning down the thermostat and remembering to wear that grandfatherly cardigan.
“Carter had frogs and boils and every damn thing happening to him,” says Bob Kerrey.3 At the 1980 Democratic Convention, when Carter chased Ted Kennedy around the stage trying to shake his hand, many Americans could understand Kennedy’s impulse to dodge the sitting president. (Kennedy had attempted to wrest the presidential nomination away from Carter.) The betting was that Carter would go into a quiet retirement and Americans would at last be free of his lectures and piety.
But Carter defied expectations, and while there are people, like Bill Clinton, who detest him, there are many more who pack audiences at his lectures, make his books bestsellers, and agree with Gore loyalist and Kennedy School lecturer Elaine Kamarck that Carter’s is “the gold standard for the postpresidency.”4
When Clinton turned his attention to righting the world’s wrongs, he recognized that. “Clinton had a lot of respect for how Carter had managed to maintain a role in public policy in his postpresidency and certainly saw that as a model,” says Jake Siewert. “If you look at what he’s done, a lot of it is modeled directly on what Carter has done.” Siewert points to, among other things, Carter’s skill at “pick[ing] issues.”5
Mark Updegrove, who has written a book on the American postpresidency and calls the relationship between the two “contentious,” says that Clinton, determined to remove the stain of his sexual misdeeds from his legacy, also is drawn to the “redemptive aspects of Carter’s postpresidency.”6
Yet the differences between them prevented a cooperative relationship from taking root. Clinton is motivated both by wanting people to like him, and by making a difference in the world. Carter, free of the need to win votes, does not care if people like him; he simply wants the world to work in the way that he believes is the right way. Clinton’s need for approval was also part of the problem, says Jody Powell, a friend of Carter’s and his presidential press secretary. “Clinton is one of these people who always tries to leave people with a good feeling and sort of tries to tell them what they want to hear. And President Carter is if anything the opposite extreme,…very direct…. The couple of…occasions that I know about that produced some hard feelings, President Carter thought he understood President Clinton to be saying one thing and then would find out that wasn’t what was going to happen.”7
Clinton sees Carter as a failed president and a surprisingly successful ex-president. He sees himself as an extremely successful president, who might have done even more had the right wing not tried to hound him from office. Clinton recoiled from Carter’s schoolmarmish style, his chilly, stubborn morality. Clinton understood his own need for the big stage, the deafening applause, the rock star’s entrance.
Yet Clinton also understood that it was Carter’s unglamorous crusades against hideous third world diseases that brought him the Nobel Peace Prize, and Clinton wanted to win one, too. Much as he would have liked not to give Jimmy Carter another thought, he was, in a way, stuck with him.
The history between the presidents is downright ugly.
Clinton was in his first term as governor and Carter was finishing his only term as president when, in 1980, Carter dispatched eighteen thousand of the hundred thousand Cuban refugees that Fidel Castro’s Mariel boatlift had deposited on beaches in Florida to Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. Some had committed crimes or were mentally ill. In Arkansas, the gubernatorial terms were then only two years, and Clinton was up for reelection. His opponent portrayed him as a Carter crony, a description that hurt when hundreds of the refugees broke out of Fort Chaffee and rioted. Carter promised that Arkansas would get no more refugees but then reneged and dispatched still more to Fort Chaffee. Both men lost in 1980, and Clinton never forgave Carter for the humiliation of that potentially career-killing defeat.8 Others say that Clinton’s naïve decision to raise fees on car tags would have cost him the election anyway.9 Reporter Bill Simmons, who covered Clinton back then, said the voters reacted negatively to Clinton’s plow-ahead manner and his dismissive attitude. “He meant to do so much in such a short period of time and he went at it so aggressively that he irritated a lot of important segments of the Arkansas political power establishment.”10
The loss sent Clinton into what Carter aide Hamilton Jordan described as “a personal funk. Arkansas acquaintances told me that he was having trouble absorbing his defeat, that he talked about it and relived it endlessly. Clinton found himself suddenly out of office with nothing to do and was recklessly chasing women.”11 According to Simmons, Clinton eventually pulled himself out of the dumps, and “resurrected his political career…by going on TV” and making an “abject apology…for pressing too hard on things that the people weren’t ready for.” He paid for the ads himself.12
When Clinton became president, the relationship soured even more. Jody Powell recalls that Clinton’s young staffers “wanted to make sure that they were in no way to be compared to the Carter administration.”13Hamilton Jordan saw that for himself when he was invited to Little Rock to meet confidentially (i.e., he was not to tell the press) with Clinton aide George Stephanopolous, who was uninterested in taking any advice from Jordan. Jordan gave it, anyway, warning Stephanopolous: “…if you don’t do anything else, get rid of the Independent Counsel law. It is a bad law!’…It will bite your administration in the ass just like it did our administration and Reagan’s and Bush’s.”14
A week before the Clinton inauguration, Carter gave an interview to Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times in which he proclaimed himself “very disappointed” that the Clintons had decided to send Chelsea to Sidwell Friends, an exclusive private school in Washington, instead of following the example of the Carters who sent their daughter, Amy, to a D.C. public school. “Amy really enjoyed going to a very low income school with students whose parents were the servants of foreign ambassadors,” Carter said.15
At his inauguration, the new president and first lady publicly ostracized the Carters, going so far, Jordan wrote, “as to celebrate the Reagans in public ceremonies, while ignoring the Carters, who had enthusiastically supported Clinton in his campaign for president.”16 Clinton praised his predecessors of both parties but never mentioned Carter. “It was rude beyond belief,” Rosalynn told Douglas Brinkley. “Not even Reagan would have done a thing like that.”17
Postinauguration, Carter alienated Clinton with his bull-in-the-China-shop approach to diplomacy. One writer who has covered Carter calls it “reckless freelancing diplomacy.” If he believed he was right, off he went, diplomatic niceties be damned. One prominent Democrat attributes Carter’s behavior during the Clinton presidency to pique over being ignored by Clinton, who rarely sought his advice and did not effectively brief him, an accommodation routinely afforded former presidents.18 “President Carter may have had expected to be able to do more and be of more help with a Democratic president,” explains Jody Powell.19
Carter got Clinton’s attention by involving himself—Clinton would have called it “meddling”—in North Korea, where he attempted to negotiate a nuclear-freeze deal with the dictator Kim Il Sung, and in Haiti, where Carter tried to negotiate the removal of the military dictator and the return to democratic rule. What happened in Haiti, says Larry King, resulted from “Carter feeling stiffed.” King recounts the story he heard from Colin Powell who was there: “Midnight was the bewitching hour. At ten minutes before midnight, Clinton called Carter and said, ‘You better get out because I’m sending in the troops,’ and Carter said, ‘You can send ’em but I ain’t leaving.’ I think that embarrassed Clinton; in other words, he didn’t listen to the president…. It left some scars.”20
Carter would volunteer for freelance diplomacy, not by calling Clinton or his secretary of state or his national security adviser. He’d simply announce his mission by appearing on CNN. “There were times when we felt Carter was being just sort of intrusive and not adding a lot of value,” says Jake Siewert.21
And then there was sex.
Jimmy Carter always viewed Clinton as a scandal waiting to happen, says Larry Sabato, who adds that Carter was “well aware of Clinton’s problems even before he became president.” Carter “did not regard Bill Clinton very highly because of his sexual escapades…. That’s not Carter’s thing at all. He may have lusted in his heart [as he said in his famous Playboy interview], but he never followed through on it.”22
Douglas Brinkley, author of a biography of Carter, says that “Carter let me into his diaries, personal papers, documents,” and they are full of reasons why “Carter doesn’t like Clinton.”23 Brinkley writes of a visit by Carter to Clinton in the Oval Office a few days after the Lewinsky story broke. For ninety minutes, Brinkley wrote, Clinton told Carter about the right-wing conspiracy.* “As Carter prepared to leave the Oval Office, Clinton asked [him]…to pray for him in his hour of darkness. It was the most intimate moment the two men ever shared.”24
Instead of keeping his thoughts about Lewinsky to himself, Carter said that he had been “deeply embarrassed by what occurred.”26 Eight months later, Carter said that Clinton “had not been truthful in the deposition given in the Paula Jones case or in the interrogation by the grand jury.”27
Jimmy Carter was close to Al Gore, whom he saw as having a strong moral core. He admired the Gores’ close marriage, as well as Al’s crusade against global warming and Tipper’s crusade for warning labels on rock albums. As couples the Gores and Carters are close.28
Clinton’s friends call Carter “self-righteous,”29 “morally priggish,”30 “finger wagging, judgmental,”31 and they guffaw over his lust-in-his-heart remark.
Carter continued to show an ugly knack for moralizing about Clinton when he was at his lowest: for instance, Carter, as quoted in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, called the Marc Rich pardon “disgraceful” and said, with his characteristic honesty, “I don’t think there is any doubt that some of the factors in the [Rich] pardon were attributable to his large gifts.”32
Carter also thought it unseemly that Clinton made millions from his speaking engagements. Carter rarely gives speeches for money, and, when he does, he gives the money to charity or to fund Carter Center programs.33Carter, who still lives in his old family house in Plains, makes his money on books34 and does not sit on boards of directors or accept consulting fees.35
Carter also looked askance at Clinton’s constant use of other people’s private jets. Carter proudly pulls his wheelie bag through airports to commercial flights, although, according to Jody Powell, supporters and some of the companies that support Carter’s programs “do provide chartered, private flights for him on occasion.” When Jimmy and Rosalynn recently visited Powell and his wife at their house on the eastern shore of Maryland to fish and hunt, “they were on a commercial jet coming out of Atlanta and sat on the tarmac for three hours, the weather was bad, waiting to get into Baltimore.”36
Carter refrained from building the typical self-glorifying and perpetuating presidential library and instead built the decidedly activist Carter Center, which, among other good works, promotes human rights around the world, and works to eradicate guinea worm and other diseases.37
Former Time magazine columnist Christopher Ogden calls Carter “a pain in the ass to a lot of administrations.”38 The former president had, for example, sent letters to all members of the United Nations Security Council urging them to vote against President George H. W. Bush’s use of force in the first Gulf War and thereby destroy the coalition Bush was building as he took on Saddam Hussein. Bush was furious. “What the hell’s the matter with this guy?” Bush raged.39 According to one person who held a top position on a newsmagazine, Bush considers Carter’s actions “tantamount to treason almost.”40
IN THE summer of 2001, Bill Clinton with his agent, Robert Barnett, decided that the negative headlines had receded sufficiently for the former president to sign a contract to write his memoir. Unlike Hillary, whose book had gone to auction and ended up at Simon & Schuster, Barnett, also Hillary’s agent, took Clinton’s memoir exclusively to Knopf.
Bill Clinton had frequently mused that he wanted to write a memoir that approached in quality Katharine Graham’s Personal History, published by Knopf in 1997. That book was edited by Robert Gottlieb, a veteran of decades in book publishing, who had returned to his longtime home at Knopf, after editing The New Yorker.41
Hillary Clinton had also held up the memoir by Graham, who had died earlier that summer, as a model for her book. Hillary did not hold up Bill’s mother’s memoir, Leading with My Heart, which described Virginia Kelley’s first impression of the young Hillary as “No makeup. Coke bottle glasses. Brown hair with no apparent style,” and portrayed the young feminist Hillary as lacking in style, but Bill did, telling friends that he hoped to emulate its honesty.42
Hillary’s advance for her memoir was $8 million.43 Bill’s for his was $12 million, believed to be the largest advance ever for a nonfiction book. He signed the contract in August 2001 with a due date of early 2003.44
That Clinton was then seen as a disgraced president obviously did not depress the size of the advance. His tarnished image might have pushed the advance up, in hopes that he would reveal what he was thinking when he had sex with an intern in the White House. Maureen Dowd wrote that Clinton and Barnett promised “a very thorough and candid telling of his life.” To Dowd that meant, “hot Oval Office sex scenes with you-know-which highly accommodating intern.”45
At the deal’s announcement, Sonny Mehta, Knopf’s president and editor in chief, said that Clinton was obviously capable of writing candidly about all aspects of his life and presidency. “Have you listened to him talk?” Mehta asked a reporter for the New York Times. “That is one of the things that convinces you.”46
Clinton had promised people at Knopf not to discuss the memoir and then goofed by talking to Jonathan Alter, who was writing a piece for Newsweek about the book deal. During that conversation Clinton said that the book “may not be as mean as some people want it to be. This shouldn’t be about settling scores but setting the record straight.” He said he was “going to let a lot of stuff go.” He told Alter that he did not want a book that is “either turgid and boring or unduly defensive. I want to explain to people who I am and what I tried to do in public life—the good things we did and the mistakes I made. And I want to make it come alive.”47
Clinton said his model was Ulysses S. Grant, who wrote his memoir while he was dying of throat cancer—he finished it days before his death—and openly admitted that he did it for the money. Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, published in 1885, is about the Civil War; Grant died before he could write about his presidency. The book, published by Mark Twain, sold 350,000 copies at publication, earned Grant’s family $450,000 in royalties, and remains in print. It is considered one of the greatest works of nineteenth-century nonfiction.48
“Odds are Clinton’s book will be some combination of disappointing and delectable,” Alter predicted, “just like the man himself.”49
The former president told his publisher and editor that he intended to write the book himself. Unlike his wife, busy in the Senate, he would not hire a ghostwriter.50 Although Clinton likes to think of himself as an accomplished writer—when friends visited him in Chappaqua he showed off the desk where he planned to write his memoir—accomplished talker is more like it. One can imagine that Clinton fantasized that the memoir would become so celebrated that the desk on which he sweated over every word would become a historical treasure, like Lincoln’s bed.
Getting started was difficult; the discipline of writing was “not exactly his thing,” says one political strategist who is close to him,51 and the prospect of trying to explain his lapses fueled his penchant for procrastination. His excuse was that his calendar was packed with speeches, which, when bundled, were much more lucrative than the $12 million advance, and much more fun.
THE LAST TIME Bill Clinton and Al Gore spoke was on the day of George W. Bush’s inauguration. Tipper and Al were not among those who went to dinner in Chappaqua. Both men blamed the other for his plight, and neither reached out to try to made amends.52
On September 8, 2001, Bill Clinton was again bundling speeches, on the circuit in Australia, where he addressed a group in Sydney; again in Sydney on the ninth; and on Monday, September 10, he was in Melbourne. He was still there when he learned about the terrorist attacks of September 11. Because of the time difference, it was already eleven at night.
He immediately called AP reporter Ron Fournier, who had covered Governor Clinton for the Arkansas Democrat. Fournier moved to the AP as White House correspondent during the Clinton years, and on 9/11 was in the same job covering Bush. Clinton told Fournier that he wanted to make a statement of support to the president and to the country. Fournier quickly filed a story, “Former President Clinton, who led the nation through the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, urged Americans to rally behind President Bush in the aftermath of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks. ‘We should not be second-guessing. We should be supporting him.’” Fournier described Clinton as “traveling in Australia.”53
Clinton also worried, and it was a worry that would consume him going forward, that he and his advisers would be blamed for not doing enough to thwart al Qaeda and kill or capture Osama Bin Laden.
With American airports shut down, George W. Bush sent an air force plane to pick up Clinton, who returned to New York on Thursday, September 13.
Al Gore heard the news of the attacks while he was in Vienna, Austria, also fulfilling a speaking engagement. He took a commercial flight to Toronto, where he and an aide rented a car and crossed into the United States at Buffalo. At around eight that Thursday night, Clinton reached Gore, then just outside Buffalo, and invited him to spend the night in Chappaqua. Gore arrived at 3:30 A.M. Friday, and the two men stayed up until dawn talking.54According to friends, there was some closing of the breach between them.55
“Of course they knew it was al Qaeda,” says Elaine Kamarck, “because as we now know they had been watching al Qaeda; and the Bush administration had not been watching al Qaeda.”56
After an hour’s sleep, Clinton and Gore (and Chelsea) flew to Washington on the air force plane that President Bush had provided. There they attended a memorial service at the National Cathedral. They left together to go to Al Gore’s house in Arlington, Virginia, and spent much of the afternoon talking. An account in the New York Times described something close to a reconciliation and ended with one unidentified person speculating that Al Gore had to fix his relationship with Clinton if he ever planned to run again for president.57
“I don’t think that they’re exactly bosom buddies,” says Jonathan Alter of the impact of those conversations.58 Tom Downey says they had “a long reconciliation,” but adds that when he talks to his friend Al Gore, which he does at least once a month, “we don’t talk about Clinton. We spend most of our time talking about Bush…. There’s probably a distance, but at the end of the day they shared something very important together.”59 The men decided, says Elaine Kamarck, to “let bygones be bygones, and I think they’ve had a much better relationship since then.” She adds, however, that “they’re not buddies like they were in the first term of the administration.”60 Others describe a wall of ice between them that shows little sign of thawing.61
That was evident four years later when Gore did not even respond to an invitation to attend the Hofstra University conference evaluating Bill Clinton’s presidency. He was invited “more than once,” says conference coordinator Natalie Datlof. “Maybe he felt that he couldn’t handle it because he could have been president.”62
FRIENDS SAY that in the aftermath of 9/11, Bill Clinton’s thoughts often dwelled on how sorry he was that he was not president when those planes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Bill Clinton is “a voracious reader of biography,” says his friend Steve Grossman, DNC chief in Clinton’s second term. “There is not a major American political figure about whom Clinton hasn’t read one or more biographies. I think he has compared and contrasted in his own mind over the years the styles of these leaders during moments of crisis.”63
For Clinton, the problem was that the “crisis” occurred after he left office. He has told Grossman and others that he would have handled things much differently from the way Bush did, starting with his charge to the American people. He would have recognized 9/11 as a Pearl Harbor kind of moment, says Grossman, that called for “serious and true sacrifice on the part of the American people at a moment when he would have had every American behind him, regardless of political party or ideology.” Drawing on JFK and his charge to the American people in 1961, Clinton would have said, “Let’s develop a serious energy policy in this country. I am going to ask the American people to take some steps…. I’m going to do it in the name of finally doing more than just talking about it.” Grossman says that he is not suggesting that Clinton is “the only one who could have done it. I believe Ronald Reagan could have done it as well.”64
It was not just speeches to the nation from the Oval Office dancing in Clinton’s head; it was about his legacy, his desire to be included in the ranks of great American presidents—Washington, Lincoln, FDR—all of whom were president during war or depression or both. The nonsense about Monica and impeachment would have been swept away if only Bill Clinton had had the opportunity to grasp this horrific event and deal with it, if only he had been in charge on September 11.
He had communed with the nation so well in 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing; but Clinton knew that Timothy McVeigh was child’s play compared with Osama Bin Laden—more of a body paragraph than a lede in the history of America in the 1990s and into the new century. (Clinton’s deputy attorney general, Eric Holder, calls Oklahoma City “not a first-tier event in the way that 9/11 was.”)65
Clinton’s extraordinary communication skills, his ability, even when addressing millions of people, to make each person feel as if he is talking directly to him or to her, might have, Clinton knew, resulted in one of history’s greatest speeches. But where was his power, his platform? What was he doing in Australia collecting his fee for addressing J. T. Campbell and Co. Pty. Ltd., a firm of bankers?
Clinton knew that the old speech that had been yielding him those six-figure fees would have to be rewritten. This was a new world, and he knew he would have to work to keep himself relevant.
Still, for the moment, he could not escape the fact that in a post-9/11 world he had a lot of time to play golf.
LATER THAT September 2001, in Chicago, at the Harborside International Golf Center, Bill Clinton sank his first hole in one; he told Mark Buell that it was the first one he had ever seen.66 Perhaps because it seemed trivial in the wake of September 11, it was hardly big news, although the gossip column “Washington Whispers” noted that the “infamous links cheat” won “bragging rights” by making it “without cheating.”67
“He was very excited about it,” remembers Cook County assessor Jim Houlihan, who was in Clinton’s golf party. Houlihan describes the former president after that feat as having “that Cheshire grin and he was just quite pleased.” Houlihan remembers no press there to observe.68 Had it happened when he was president, it would have made news worldwide; one can imagine it leading every network newscast.
Although Clinton did not want the public to see golf as a staple of his postpresidency, he loved the game and found it hard to turn down invitations to play.
When New Jersey state senator Ray Lesniak heard that real estate developer Charles Kushner had invited the former president to speak on October 17, 2001, at a bank Kushner owned in Livingston, New Jersey, Lesniak, an avid Clinton supporter—New Jersey cochairman of the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign—started to plan for a golf date. Clinton accepted the invitation, and Lesniak immediately set his sights on the tradition-rich Baltursol, host to PGA and U.S. Open tournaments. Located in Springfield, New Jersey, it’s considered one of the top ten golf courses in the country. Lesniak was not a member, so the Monday before Clinton’s Wednesday speech, he called a friend who was. “I asked him if he wants to play golf with President Clinton and me.” The friend agreed to make arrangements at Baltursol but soon called back: “We can’t play; it’s a members-only day.” Lesniak was shocked but not surprised. “So they wouldn’t let the president of the United States play…. This is how stuffy this crowd is…. They weren’t going to make any exceptions for President Clinton?” Lesniak surmises that the reaction would have been different if George H. W. Bush had wanted to play. “So I took him to my club, the Suburban Golf Club in Union, New Jersey,…and I’m so glad that Baltursol turned him down because he was welcomed with such open arms at this club.”
Lesniak had been warned that Clinton had landed from Europe that day, and that he would be tired and planned to play only four or five holes. “He played all eighteen,” Lesniak says. On the way back to the clubhouse, “some people approached him on the tee and asked him some questions about Northern Ireland,…and I tried to signal them off and Clinton just put his hand out and spent ten minutes explaining the situation.” He also was not too tired, says Lesniak, to take “pictures with the caddies, with the waitresses, with the greens keepers…. Everybody was beaming [whereas] at Baltursol they probably would have been very uppity and not care.”69
Donna Shalala calls Clinton “a competitive golfer.” One of the few women who has played golf with him—at the Army/Navy Club when he was president—Shalala says, “He spends a lot of time teaching. He’s a good analyzer of games.”70 Clinton’s former national security adviser, Sandy Berger, says Clinton will offer improvement tips even when not wanted. “He’s a real student of golf,” says Berger, “and understands the mechanics. ‘Listen, stand up straighter. Put your hand right here,’” he’d lecture Berger; but “it’s goodhearted,” Berger adds, “it’s not at all judgmental.”71
Some of Clinton’s golfing partners claim that in deference to his position they always let him win. Former Arkansas congressman Beryl Anthony, who volunteers that he is a better golfer than Clinton, says with a chuckle, “You always let the commander in chief win.”72 Others maintain that they would never do that: “I don’t think anybody who’s a real golfer lets anybody win,” says John Emerson. On the other hand, he admits, “Maybe they’ll give him a putt that they wouldn’t give somebody else.”73 Not always. Mark Buell recalls a game with Clinton when Clinton “got upset with me when I made him putt a short putt and he missed it…. ‘You’re not going to make me putt that, are you?’ And I said, ‘You bet, Mr. President; we’ve got a bet going here.’”74
Jim Houlihan, who had golfed with the president at the historic Ballybunion Golf Club in County Kerry, Ireland, scoffs at the very notion of letting Clinton win. “I won’t even let my kids beat me in sports. I’m not someone who’s going to play some customer golf. I’d say he probably hits a longer ball farther, but I’d be happy to take him on in a competition, and wager on myself.” He says that some years back he and Clinton had the same handicap of about thirteen. Hanging in the air is that Houlihan’s is now lower.75
Clinton seemed at his happiest when he was on the links. Leon Panetta describes him telling great stories and showing off his warm personality, chatting with other golfers, bystanders, and people there just to catch a glimpse of him. Those people will usually get more than a glimpse; he’ll shake their hands, ask about their families, and if he ever meets them again, chances are he’ll remember. When he agreed to lecture pro bono at the Panetta Institute (at California State University, Monterey Bay Seaside), in lieu of a fee—Panetta told Clinton he could not afford even a cut rate—Clinton happily accepted Panetta setting up a golf game for them with Clint Eastwood, the actor and onetime mayor of Carmel.76
People who don’t trust Clinton are given to saying that he cheats at golf and that the man who cheats at golf also cheats at life (and on his wife). Others say that Clinton is no different from most golfers. Yes, he takes “mulligans” (extra shots) and “gimmes” (free putts), Shalala says, and “so does every other golfer I know.”77 Leon Panetta, who calls himself “a recreational golfer,” laughs as he recalls Clinton’s tactics, which, he stresses, are fine with him. “He can be very competitive on the golf course to the point that he always wants to hit the ball well and if he doesn’t, he’ll use another ball.” Panetta says he’s fine with Clinton’s style and seems amused by Clinton’s need to post a low score. “I think it’s fair to say that he kind of likes a very casual game of golf in which at the end of the day he can post a good score, real or unreal.”78
Bud Yorkin, who has played golf many times with Clinton, insists that Clinton’s scores are accurate. “There were some times when he’d take a shot, it wasn’t a great shot, and he’d drop a ball and hit a second one. But he never played the second one. He’d do it just to see why he didn’t hit the first one the way it should be.”79 Mark Buell explains that Clinton takes mulligans because he often has the club pro with him “and so if something goes wrong he wants to know what it is and so he’ll hit another shot to see if he can correct it, but…he always scores off the first ball.” Buell blames Republicans in general and Rush Limbaugh, an avid golfer, in particular, for stirring up bogus stories and taking “cheap shots” at the president.80
As with most aspects of Clinton’s life, there’s always a dark side: Robert “Buzz” Patterson, a military aide to Clinton, who often rode in the golf cart behind the president (carrying the nuclear football), portrays him as a downright cheat—“with ball placements and extra shots”—even in “inconsequential” games, because he wanted to be able to boast a good score to the press. He claims that Clinton cheated “pretty much on every hole…. If there was a bad shot, he’d drop two or three balls and hit them all and play the best shot…. On any given hole he might have seven, eight, nine shots and counted it as a four or five.”
When Clinton played golf with Vernon Jordan, Patterson claims, the two of them would tell off-color jokes, and Clinton would point out attractive women and describe them in crude terms.81 Don Hewitt recalls a 60 Minutes episode about Jordan when Mike Wallace asked him, “What do you and Bill Clinton talk about on the golf course?” and Jordan answered “Pussy.” When people asked Jordan, “How could you say that on the air?” Jordan replied, “If the president of the United States says that, what do you want me to say?”82
Clinton would often smoke a cigar while playing, sometimes even an illegal Cuban cigar, some of them compliments of Ray Lesniak. “I didn’t tell him they were Cuban, but he could tell from the first puff.”83
Bill Clinton could have played every day, but he knew he had to resist that temptation or, in the public’s mind, he would become a southern-fried Ike or Jerry Ford.
BILL, HILLARY, and Chelsea, along with the Clintons’ benefactor, infoUSA chairman Vinod Gupta—he was later pushed aside after a shareholder suit questioned the large sums of money directed to the Clintons from the publicly traded company84—were on vacation in Acapulco in January 2002. Gupta flew the Clintons there on his company’s jet. While they were away, the president’s chocolate Lab, Buddy, died after being hit by a car on a two-lane highway in Chappaqua. He had followed a contractor out of the Clintons’ house.
Since his White House debut Buddy had been a loving friend to the president—his master’s only comfort and companion in August 1998, sleeping and otherwise, after Clinton admitted he had had sex with Monica Lewinsky. One of the most famous images from that Martha’s Vineyard vacation was of the three Clintons walking to Marine One across the White House lawn, Chelsea bravely bridging the divide between her parents by walking between them, holding hands with her father on her right and her mother on her left. In his right hand the president holds a leashed but still rambunctious Buddy, walking with his head turned to the president.85
The president was supposed to have had the companionship of his moneyman and golfing buddy, Terry McAuliffe, on that trip, but, after Bill confessed, Hillary told McAuliffe to forget about coming with them. That was one way she could punish her husband to whom she refused to speak for the duration. Buddy was truly his only comfort.86
The death of his Chappaqua roommate in 2002 came at a time when Clinton was still treading water, reliving the glories of his presidency without a firm plan in hand for the present, much less the future. He spent time with old friends, such as Mark and Susie Buell, who admired him unreservedly and were important supporters of Hillary’s. Much of their conversation focused on the past—a favorite story involved Fidel Castro.
Toward the close of Clinton’s second term, the Buells traveled to Cuba and visited in his home the photographer Alberto Corda, who had snapped the iconic photograph of Che Guevara in 1960, sporting a beret and long curly hair.87 Corda pulled negatives out from under his bed, including one of Castro in 1959 standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial in full fatigues with his hat off, gazing at the statue of Abraham Lincoln. Buell asked Corda to have a copy of it made so he could give it to President Clinton. Corda was “quite impressed” with that, says Buell, and happily inscribed it to the president, “With great honor.”
Corda later mentioned that he had called “Fidel last night and I told him that one of his pictures was going to Bill Clinton, and Fidel told me to tell you to tell Bill Clinton that this Monica Lewinsky is the work of his enemies.”
Buell gave Clinton the Lewinsky message but held the photograph until after he left office, “because it would have been illegal for him to accept anything from Cuba.”
In June 2002, the Buells returned to Cuba, this time with their home state senator, Barbara Boxer. Castro invited Boxer’s delegation to the Palace of the Revolution where, at a cocktail reception, they met the Cuban leader, dressed in his “olive greens and looking,” says Mark Buell, “somewhat like Clinton…. He’s very charismatic and makes you feel like you’re the only person he’s talking to.” Buell told Castro that he and Susie were the people who gave Clinton the Corda photo, to which Castro replied, “I met President Clinton once. He wasn’t supposed to shake my hand; we backed into each other at a reception at the United Nations and I turned around and extended my hand and President Clinton shook it and we had a very interesting conversation. I’m not at liberty to tell you the nature of that conversation.”
The night went on so long that only Bill Clinton would have appreciated it—four hours of meetings until midnight and then a four-hour meal. It would have gone longer except that Senator Boxer was tired. As they were leaving, Castro gave all the women flowers and all the men a box of cigars. “If you give me another box,” Buell told Castro, “I’ll give one to Bill Clinton.”
“And he just lit up and…took ten minutes with his interpreter because he wanted to do it right and he put a note on this box of cigars…and puts the dates that they had met at the United Nations and some very cordial comments and signs it and dates it.”
As he hands the box to Buell, Castro says, “Now I will tell you the conversation we had, and only three people in the world will know it and he will know this box really came from me. You tell the president, the tests we discussed [at the United Nations] have been completed.”
Three months later, in September 2002, Clinton was at the Buells’ house in San Francisco for a fund-raiser for Congresswoman, now Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Buell gave Clinton the cigars. “And he reads the message and the first thing he says is, ‘Well, he’s got the dates wrong by two weeks.’ Only Clinton would tell you that. But he did say, ‘We did have a very nice time,’ and he said, ‘I’ll cherish this because I have mementos from almost all the world leaders when I was president, but I have nothing from Castro.’” Buell then gave Clinton the secret message, and “Clinton just looked at me. He didn’t say anything.” (Buell speculates that Clinton and Castro had discussed AIDS in Cuba. Castro was worried that an outbreak of the disease would hurt tourism.)88
A MONTH later came some speculation in the press that Bill Clinton might run for senator from New Jersey—the Clintons would have had to buy a third house—in the wake of his friend Robert Torricelli’s announcement that he would not run for reelection. Buffeted by ethics investigations, afraid his party would lose the seat to the Republicans, Torricelli announced he’d step aside with a little more than a month to go to election day.89 Clinton was not interested.
In the midterm elections the next month, Clinton’s reputation for being the world’s smartest political strategist took a hit. Some candidates wanted nothing to do with him. Those who did accept his help were often sorry. Nearly every race he touched landed in the losers column. Writing in Vanity Fair, Robert Sam Anson had Democrats greeting “his offer of assistance like a sleepover with Typhoid Mary.”90
George W. Bush, instead of suffering the typical midterm losses, gained seats in Congress. The Bush victory had meaning beyond control of Congress. Complaints that the 2000 election had been stolen from Gore lost their resonance. Kennedy School of Government lecturer Elaine Kamarck, who had been a senior adviser to Al Gore, saw Clinton as radioactive: “Look at every marginal race in the 2002 election, Bill Clinton was not asked to campaign.” And, she adds, in close gubernatorial and Senate races that year, he was in “zero” commercials.91
Janet Reno, Clinton’s attorney general for eight years, running in Florida for the Democratic nomination for governor, wanted Clinton nowhere near her, going so far, according to Robert Sam Anson, as to omit any mention of Clinton in her Web biography.92 Today, Reno heaps praise on Clinton—“one of the smartest people I’ve ever met”—adding that “he made one terrible mistake,” but that she did not try to distance herself from him. She admits, however, that she never asked him to campaign for her.93
Robert Torricelli, who blames Reno for Clinton’s woes—it was Reno who gave Ken Starr the go-ahead at crucial junctures—recalls that in the 2002 Florida gubernatorial primary he was raising money for Democrats, with the exception of Reno. “I used to call across Florida, raising money,” says Torricelli, “and during my conversation I would ask people not to contribute to Janet Reno.”94
Reno lost in the primary in an upset to Tampa lawyer Bill McBride,95 whom Clinton campaigned for in the general election against Jeb Bush, a particularly important target for the Democrats who were eager to pay him back for his alleged help in giving Florida and thus the presidency to his older brother. In an enthusiastic reception for Clinton at a McBride rally in Fort Lauderdale the Saturday before the election, the Washington Post reported, “a woman lofted a sign that said, ‘Remember when the president was smart?’” Jeb Bush won easily.96
In North Carolina, Clinton’s old friend and former chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, asked the former president not to campaign for him in the race for the U.S. Senate. (He lost anyway to Elizabeth Dole.)97 And so it went, all over the country. One bright spot was Rahm Emanuel’s win for a congressional seat in Chicago.
After that election, Bill Clinton gave a speech to the centrist Democratic Leadership Council blaming weak candidates who couldn’t persuade voters that they’d be strong on security. Ridiculing Clinton’s anemic performance in the midterms, a New York Post gossip columnist referred to Clinton as “the former horndog in chief.” Playing off Toni Morrison’s tribute to Clinton as the “first black president,” the paper quoted the Reverend Al Sharpton as calling Clinton “the first beige president.”98
IN DECEMBER 2001, gold shovel in hand, Clinton turned the dirt for his library. Construction began in earnest six months later.99
President Clinton directly sought money from friends and closed the deal with, to name several, Denise Rich, Vinod Gupta, David Geffen, Steven Spielberg, John Catsimatidis, Ron Burkle, John Emerson, Barbra Streisand, and Howard Tullman. Early on, Clinton met with Carnegie Corporation head Vartan Gregorian for library fund-raising tips. Gregorian put Clinton “in touch with the Annenbergs, and the Annenberg Foundation gave a million dollars to the Clinton Library.” (Gregorian also primed the pump with Scottish philanthropist Tom Hunter, who later traveled with Clinton to Africa and committed $100 million to the Clinton Global Initiative.) Another donor, according to a recent investigation by reporters for the New York Times, was Bernard L. Schwartz, then CEO of Loral Space and Communications, at that time under a cloud of suspicion involving allegations of provision of satellite technology to China. It was later reported in the Washington Post that 10 percent of the money for Clinton’s library came from foreign sources, a huge chunk from Saudi Arabia.100
Although there are limits on donations to presidential campaigns, there are no limits on donations that individuals can give to presidential libraries; some legislation is in the works, however, that would require quarterly disclosure of the source of any donation over $200. The bill, whose sponsors include Democrats Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel, and Henry Waxman, would change the law just in time to hurt fund-raising for the George W. Bush Library.101
In his memoir, McAuliffe writes about his library fund-raising efforts as if they were essential to the future of the Republic. “We knew these same cowards would keep attacking the President and trying to smear his good name long after he left the White House, and that was why it became my central focus to work toward establishing a forum for a factual, accurate account of the Clinton years that Americans and people all over the world could visit to learn more about the Clinton years and why they were the best eight years of our lives. The Bill Clinton Presidential Library was going to be our vehicle to establish his legacy.”102
FRIENDS WHO hoped Clinton would keep a more conventional schedule once out of the White House noted that he seemed just as undisciplined—like an undergraduate out from under his parents’ supervision for the first time. Leon Panetta describes his former boss’s schedule as “haphazard.” He can tell when Clinton has pulled a string of three-hours-of-sleep nights. “It begins to take a toll on his voice.”103
His admirers attribute his habits to his insatiable intelligence. “I think he has…a ravenous appetite for information,” says Donna Shalala, “and…he reads more than any politician I’ve ever known.”104
One prominent political strategist recalls visiting Clinton in the White House: “I went up with him to the residence and he’s carrying a full armload of books, having just finished a group and got a new group to read.”105Conrad Black wrote a 1,200-plus-page biography of FDR, published in 2003, and sent a copy of it to Bill Clinton, who responded by letter with “specific questions about Roosevelt. It was clear that he did read the book.”106 John Emerson pegs Clinton as reading “faster than the speed of light.” He recalls the daily White House press clips that were “almost an inch thick” and Clinton noting a negative comment from an economist in California that was on the jump page of a Los Angeles Times business story eighty pages into the briefing.107
The premonition that he will not live a long life, friends say, fuels this disinclination to waste time sleeping. And then there is his freakishly gregarious nature. Whether it’s demons or some holdover from a dysfunctional childhood, he cannot stand to be alone.
One person who has observed him closely describes Clinton as more likely to be playing cards with his traveling companion Doug Band until 4:00 or 5:00 A.M. than reading. “He never sleeps. He’s an insomniac, very restless mind and body. He doesn’t need sleep. He’s just metabolically a freak.” This person also notes that given the number of Diet Cokes he consumes—“more Diet Coke than you can imagine a person can drink, starting in the morning”—it’s surprising he sleeps at all.108
Clinton’s friends insist that he has a photographic memory; almost all seem to have a story about his remembering the name of someone’s aunt having met her for thirty seconds five years before. “See if you can find somebody whose name he has forgotten,” challenges David Schulte, who was at Yale Law School with Bill and Hillary.109 The Chicago Tribune’s Rick Kogan calls Clinton’s recall “some kind of Asperger’s syndrome; [he’s like an] idiot savant about things and people.”110
“Ask him a question and he answers with a prolonged response, carefully and logically structured, supported by a myriad of facts and figures,” says Anson M. Beard Jr., a retired Morgan Stanley executive who supports Clinton’s postpresidential causes. “It is an incredible mind and reminds me of my great-grandfather who purportedly could read an engineering book and remember what the third paragraph on Chapter 2 was all about.”111
But one Washington political consultant says Clinton’s mind is more than merely photographic. “He is a synthetic thinker; he brings together disparate ideas and material and recombines [them] to get fundamentally new and different thoughts.”112 People who have worked with him often mention his ability to absorb information, select the most salient pieces, weave them into a coherent message, assemble it all in his head, rather than using a computer to cut and paste, and deliver it as a cohesive, persuasive speech.113
ALL THOSE BRAINS; all that energy. Bill Clinton knew he needed to stop treading water. How could he project an image of a statesman, a player on the world stage? How could he shed the “Boy Clinton” moniker slapped on him by American Spectator editor in chief R. Emmett Tyrrell, who portrayed Clinton as undisciplined, dishonest, and frightfully immature; a man in his fifties who reminded some of their adolescent sons?114
He continued to ask himself the question, as framed by his friend, Mark Buell: “How am I going to get back to a place where I can pursue the things that interest me…while being very careful of Hillary’s career; not to try to upstage her or to be controversial on issues where people could celebrate a split in the family over politics.”115
For the most part, each year out of the White House has been better than the one before, his gradual ascent attributable to Bush’s grievous misjudgments in the prosecution of the war in Iraq and to the realization that Bush’s embarrassing inarticulateness might reflect mediocre intelligence more than regular-guy plain talk.
Friends have often said that Bill Clinton would have made a mesmerizing preacher. He seemed to be tapping into that as, in combination with his speaking schedule, he began, in a sense, to preach to the converted, lecturing at the elite conferences where opinion makers gather to network. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, he became increasingly in demand. “He’s so available,” says Mark Buell. “He makes himself available to…Davos where he is the rock star; he is the guy everybody wants to listen to.”116
He also began to gravitate to an issue that would come to define his postpresidency work.
In late 2000, as Clinton was trying to figure out what to do with his postpresidency, Tony Coelho advised him to focus on “the poor and AIDS”; bring to it “a moral indignation.” Coelho reminded him that he was “the first black president.”117
Clinton first began to look at the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa in 2001, but the seeds were planted in the final months of his presidency when he took his second trip to Africa and was struck by the virulence of the epidemic and by the recognition of how little he had done as president. Melanne Verveer, who was on that trip, calls the charge that Clinton did not do enough “an understatement” and describes him as trying “to make up for lost time in those remaining months of his presidency.”118
By visiting Africa, talking about Africa, and taking Africa seriously, says Richard Marlink, a physician, professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, and scientific director at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Clinton began to try to alleviate the problem, but it was too late in his administration. Time ran out on him.119
Clinton’s record had not been good. In 1997, he said there would be a vaccine for AIDS within a decade. AIDS activists were skeptical because he put no money behind that prediction.120 (The previous prediction came in 1984 from then secretary of health and human services [HHS] Margaret Heckler, who forecast a vaccine within two years.)121 Clinton’s own Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS threatened to resign en masse and approve a no-confidence vote in the administration’s ability to halt the spread of HIV because the Clinton administration would not approve federal funds to pay for clean needles for drug addicts.122
Kevin De Cock, the director of the Department of HIV/AIDS in the World Health Organization, calls the Clinton years “a fairly dry time in AIDS scientifically and from a public health perspective.” As president, Clinton and the Congress allocated only $150 million to the African AIDS crisis.123 When Richard Marlink, who spends six months of every year in Africa, suggested to Clinton postpresidency that he could have done more, he blamed not himself, but the Republican Congress: “We tried to increase funding and it always would get voted down or taken out of the bill.”124 Clinton’s HHS secretary, Donna Shalala, not surprisingly, supports Clinton, rejecting the notion that the administration was wanting in its response to a disease that was first identified in 1981, at the start of the Reagan administration. “He basically saved thousands of Americans,” she claims. “We couldn’t get Congress to focus on the international pieces.”125
Others who worked for Clinton also defend him. His national security adviser during his first term, Tony Lake, gives his former boss credit for having an “extraordinary impact when he said for the first time that HIV/AIDS is a national security problem.”126 Lake’s successor, Sandy Berger, agrees that the linkage was important, but admits, “I think we didn’t do enough and so I think…that may motivate him.”127
Clinton was also moved by criticism from his own daughter. Eric Goosby, director of the Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation, who had directed AIDS policy in the Clinton White House and at HHS, recalls that the first time he heard the president express “any kind of regret” was when Chelsea, doing graduate work at Oxford, wrote her thesis on HIV/AIDS. Goosby was asked to help the first daughter find websites that would provide the data she needed. Her paper, recalls Goosby, was “pretty critical of her father’s track record, not so much with prevention but with treatment. And he verbalized at that time, just kind of in the hallway, ‘Yeah, you know, she’s right, I really should have done more.’”128 He has, postpresidency, admitted that for too long he defended patents of the big pharmaceutical companies and so contributed to blocking poor people worldwide from access to cheaper generics.129
Once out of office, having established the Clinton Foundation but not yet certain what to do with it, Bill Clinton came to understand what was wrong with U.S. policy toward the spread of HIV in Africa and how to fix it. He was helped along by Ira Magaziner, on whom he bestowed the title chairman of the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative. He and Magaziner, sixty-one, had a long relationship stretching back to Oxford where they were both Rhodes scholars. Later, Magaziner, then a management consultant, came to work at Clinton’s White House, managing Hillary’s failed universal health-care plan. After that fiasco, Magaziner stayed on and, in 1996, took on the additional role as Clinton’s chief Internet adviser, making sure that the Internet did not get carved up like radio frequencies and that it remained a global free-trade zone.130
Magaziner first contacted Eric Goosby in 2001 to ask if Clinton should focus on treatment as opposed to prevention.131 Once Magaziner was satisfied that the answer was treatment, he started to recruit. At the Barcelona International AIDS Conference in 2002, Magaziner asked Marlink to volunteer and to advise him who else would be interested in the treatment aspect of HIV/AIDS in Africa.132
The next year, Magaziner contacted Richard Feachem. The question at what Feachem calls a “brainstorming dinner” was what role the Clinton Foundation should play. The answer, says Feachem, was a shift of focus from prevention (i.e., abstinence and condoms) to helping those who were already HIV positive or who would pass the virus to their spouses during sex or to their babies during childbirth or breast-feeding.133 The antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) that HIV-positive people in the United States were taking as a matter of course and that were turning a death sentence into a chronic, manageable illness, but that were priced out of the reach of most third-world people, had to be made available in Africa. And so Clinton focused on bringing down the number of deaths by getting ARVs to Africans who were infected, sick, and dying.
“I think Clinton saw this as an inescapable moral issue of our time,” says Richard Marlink. “If we’re going to take Africa…seriously, this epidemic is going to threaten countries’ very existences, and he saw that…we’re essentially denying, like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment where you’re denying treatment that existed to people…. And so it was an epiphany for Clinton…. When it’s doable to…treat people, it’s not acceptable to say, ‘We’re going to spend money on prevention,’ that treating Africans is ‘a bottomless pit.’”134
Bill Bicknell, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health and director of the Lesotho Boston Health Alliance, lays out the cold hard facts of treating or not treating HIV/AIDS. “When you get infected with HIV, if you do nothing you’re essentially pretty healthy for…four, seven, eight years. So after infection you don’t need treatment for maybe five, six, seven years. Then you need treatment, and if you don’t get treatment…you die in two years. If you do get treatment, you live a long while. Nobody knows how long, but there have been people who started treatment in the early ’90s who are doing fine just now.” He compares it to diabetes, which, before insulin, “killed you in a few years. Now, ‘Oh, I’m a diabetic. I’m an old man or an old woman.’”135
Clinton started to use his voice, his influence, his access to world leaders, and his ability to travel the world and raise the subject of HIV/AIDS. Almost from the start, says Richard Feachem, he made a difference.136 Still, Richard Marlink feared that Clinton, struggling to establish his legacy, would treat the AIDS fight as a political campaign, show bursts of energy followed by loss of interest. Marlink confronted the former president when they first met in 2002 and he delivered his “conditions of service.” Clinton was not accustomed to being talked to in that tone and of having his commitment questioned. Marlink recalls Clinton getting “red in the face. ‘You don’t think I’m telling the truth?’” When he got beyond his pique, says Marlink, the former president said, “‘I hear your…concerns,’ and then he kept reassuring, ‘You need me, I’ll be there…. If you need me to make phone calls,…that’s my job and Ira [Magaziner] will organize it.’” Marlink recalls the president as adamant: “This is not just for this year, and not just for next year. This is something I’m going to do from now on until it’s solved.”
Still Marlink worried that Clinton’s involvement would become one giant photo op. “When we met in the Harlem offices we insisted as a group of volunteers that there not be public announcements or press releases [or]…photo ops unless there was something substantial to announce or unless it helped the…local government move forward their AIDS agenda.” Marlink could not get over the fear that Bill Clinton was and remained too much the showman.137