Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House - Carol Felsenthal (2008)
Chapter 6. BILL CLINTON FIXES AFRICA
WHEN ASKED WHAT HAS BEEN HIS MOST IMPORTANT work since leaving the presidency, Bill Clinton answers eradicating AIDS in Africa. “It gives me a chance to save more lives quicker,” he told a Chicago Tribunereporter.1
Many of the physicians who have worked with Clinton agree that he is a player in this fight, but not as important a player as he thinks he is, and certainly not as important as his underling Ira Magaziner. Richard Feachem credits Clinton with getting medicines to some of the people who needed them by “driving down prices…. He has…already had a substantial impact on the price of first-line antiretroviral (ARV) drugs…through negotiating special deals with selected manufacturers.” The drop in price is substantial—around $140 per patient per year, from a high of between $15,000 and $20,000 per patient per year.
Feachem adds, however, that Clinton has the tendency to take too much credit, that those prices depend on the Clinton Foundation doing the negotiations, but as much or more on the huge purchasing power of the Global Fund. “So it’s our money and his negotiation that complete the triangle.” The Global Fund and George W. Bush’s PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief ),* argues Feachem, “are paying for 80 percent of the treatment that is happening in Africa.”3
Still, Feachem adds, Clinton’s team of negotiators came in “on the back of that trend and [drove] it down further and faster than would otherwise have occurred, by doing some very hard negotiation not only with the drugmakers but with the people who make the components of the drugs, going way back upstream and focusing also on the key ingredients that go into the final pill…. I’m not sure the prices would have ever got that low without the…Clinton negotiation. I’m sure they wouldn’t have got there at that speed.”4
Kevin De Cock of the World Health Organization calls Clinton’s impact “real but limited…. They are players and they’re taken seriously, but I think it is modest global impact, but scaling up.”5
Some of these on-the-ground-in-Africa physicians wish that the former president would quit using the word I so much. They don’t doubt his ability to open doors, but still they wince when he seems to want to don a Superman cape and put himself at the center of every rescue.6 And, to a man, these doctors, while expressing admiration for Clinton and his foundation and his CGI, say that the word I should be replaced by the name “Ira Magaziner.”
It was not Bill Clinton, they say, who sat at that table and negotiated those prices. It is often said that the workhorse behind the show horse is Ira Magaziner. Sandy Berger calls Magaziner “the instrument of his commitment.”7 “Ira never stops working,” says Melanne Verveer. “He’s been single-minded in helping the president do this.”8 Describing Bill Clinton as “a mobilizer,” but also as all over the place, giving speeches, and “working on his wife’s campaigns,” Richard Marlink of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation gives most credit to Magaziner and to his staff at the Clinton Foundation as “the believers” who do the real work.9
In a self-celebratory essay in Vanity Fair’s July 2007 Africa issue, Clinton never mentions Magaziner.10 Alan Solomont, who knows both men well, says Magaziner is “always in the background.” He refers to an annual report from the Clinton Foundation in which “there are all these pictures of Clinton with [Nelson] Mandela and this and that. Magaziner is always with him…but [you never see him].”11
Others say that’s just the way Magaziner wants it, and he wouldn’t get anywhere within camera range unless shoved. But they also say that if there is a Nobel Peace Prize in the future for Clinton’s work in Africa, the recipient ought to be Magaziner, not Clinton. Magaziner’s work has had “an enormous impact,” says Eric Goosby of the Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation, “and [lowering drug prices] may be the most significant thing that they did. And Ira did conceive of that and pull it off.”
On the drug negotiation front, says Goosby, it’s all Magaziner all the time: “Ira certainly was the person who came up with the strategy and did all of the negotiations with the drug companies, both the generic as well as the branded…. His intent was to create a market-driven drop in the cost of these drugs.” Magaziner’s “brainstorm,” says Goosby, was knowing “from the very beginning that in order for it to work he needed to create a competitive market within each of the countries that move into generic drugs. So he very strategically would not identify one generic drug company making the drug. He’d identify two at a minimum, preferably four,…so they kept a competitive edge on the pricing, long after the Clinton Foundation has left the dialogue. In terms of the significance of that, that’s what brought many of these drugs available to countries where the per capita income is less than $100 a year.”12
The personalities of Clinton and Magaziner are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Chris Stamos, who accompanied the former president on an eight-country, ten-day tour of Africa in the summer of 2005, describes Bill Clinton as “incredibly polished and just unbelievably likable.” Magaziner doesn’t spend time thinking about whether or not he’s likable, adds Stamos. “He spends all his time just getting stuff done.” Stamos says that if there’s anyone’s health he worries about, it’s Magaziner’s. “He’s always on a plane, flying somewhere to negotiate a deal.”13
One journalist who knows Magaziner says that he’s one of the few people who can correct Bill Clinton, that Magaziner is the only one whom Clinton considers “an actual peer.” She describes him as a man with “a real social conscience,…eccentric and kind of poignant and cranky and crotchety…. He speaks only when spoken to. He’s impossibly smart, once you engage him.”14
Bill Bicknell, director of the Lesotho Boston Health Alliance, who spends four to five months a year in Lesotho, the second or third most affected country in the world in terms of percentage of population with AIDS—almost a third of the adult population is infected—was talking to the minister of health, who said that he heard that Clinton was working in Africa and wondered if Lesotho could get in on the drug price cuts. Bicknell called Clinton’s office in New York and even tried Arkansas, but then discovered that Magaziner was running Clinton’s HIV/AIDS program out of a small apartment in a low-income district of Quincy, Massachusetts, that Bicknell drove by every day but had never noticed. Three weeks later the minister of health “signed an agreement with the Clinton Foundation.”15
On the other hand, where would Magaziner be without Clinton? It’s only because of Clinton that Magaziner can engage with the ministries of health. “And that’s a big contribution to this effort,” says Eric Goosby. “In fact, it’s the critical contribution. Having that personal interaction with the head of state,…aligns the Clinton Foundation’s activities as being…in the tent from the very beginning.”16
Clinton’s moral authority outside the United States is impressive; his huge personality was the moving force, for example, in persuading South African government leaders of the viral nature of AIDS and of the efficacy of ARVs. This was not an easy sale. In August 2006, at the International Aids Conference in Toronto, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the country’s health minister, suggested “that a diet of beetroot, lemon and garlic, and African potatoes was the most effective cure for AIDS.”17
Clinton went right to the country’s president, Thabo Mbeki. “Our ability to engage and partner with the [South African] Ministry of Health,” says Goosby, “was facilitated by President Clinton meeting with President Mbeki,” who had “a level of trust” with Clinton that dates to 1994 when Mbeki made his first country visit to the United States and Clinton gave him a state dinner. “We were given the nod; we were brought in by order of the president.” So Eric Goosby and his people went to South Africa and spent about three months partnering with the South African Ministry of Health and developing their ARV rollout plan.18
There is no denying the power of Clinton’s presence in Africa. Ira Magaziner could walk into a room and no one would notice; when Clinton walks into a room, everyone notices. When in Africa with Clinton, Chris Stamos heard him give “ten to fifteen speeches, and I think I was moved to tears or near tears every time. It was almost like being in a Baptist church.”
When they arrived in a country, Stamos recalls, “the streets would be lined with just throngs of people singing, ‘We love you Bill Clinton.’” Stamos says that the former president drove his Secret Service agents crazy. He would “stop the motorcade and get out, shake their hands, hug them, pose for pictures, sign things as if he were running for the president of that country.”
Decades younger than Clinton, Stamos observed him up close because they spent some nights together on the 727 that belonged to Issam M. Fares, the businessman and deputy prime minister of Lebanon. Stamos was amazed by Clinton’s stamina. “Say we were flying from Lesotho to South Africa; we’re on the plane and we’re talking. We land; he might have taken a five-minute nap…. He slept about three hours a night; the rest of the time we were up talking…and then he’d get off the plane, walk to the microphone and just give an incredible speech.” He had no notes, Stamos says; it was all in his head and each speech was different from the one before. When they stayed in hotels, Stamos recalls, “we would land in a country, meet the president, visit a few clinics, get to the hotel after dinner; then he’d invite us to his room.” Clinton would often have the television tuned to some golf tournament—in Mozambique, Stamos remembers watching Tiger Woods—“and he’d be talking about golf but in between saying very deep things about global health or anecdotes from his presidency.” It took him “a good month,” Stamos says, to recover from that trip.19
ALTHOUGH IT will be less a factor going forward, Bill Clinton’s love affair with Nelson Mandela, whose son, Makgatho, died of AIDS in 2005, is central to understanding Clinton’s work in South Africa.20
Clinton visits Mandela every July on his birthday. For Chris Stamos one of the high points of his trip to Africa was an afternoon private visit to Mandela’s house in Johannesburg. Sitting in Mandela’s living room watching the two former presidents, Stamos was awed: “The love between them…. They hug each other. And you can tell that Mandela loves this man.”
“Tired but still a force,” says Stamos of Mandela. “The…minute he walks into a room,…it’s almost like a giraffe walked into a room, not because of his height, but because of his grace. There’s something otherworldly about him. You just feel a kind of gentleness, almost like the Dalai Lama…. His moral authority is still there, unwavering…. But he’s getting old.”21
The men both regret that they didn’t do more while they held the bully pulpit of their presidencies. Richard Feachem calls Mandela “perhaps the most respected and the most sincere voice in the global HIV/AIDS struggle…. And when Clinton and Mandela joined forces…that’s pretty unbeatable in terms of advocacy.”22
When Stamos listened to Clinton and Nelson Mandela talk, there was a theme in their conversation: “Africa really needs a success.” Stamos came away thinking that Rwanda could be that success story, “which is why I’m actually interested in investing in Rwanda as well.” He hopes to join forces with Scottish philanthropist Tom Hunter who is already contributing there.23
Bill Clinton also has enormous clout with leaders of other countries—with the Irish prime minister whose government pledged $13 million for Lesotho, for example.24 At a children’s hospital in India, Clinton announced that he had worked out a deal for $35 million coming from a group of nations led by France, and including Brazil, Britain, Norway, and Chile, that would halve the price—less than $60 a year per child—for pediatric ARVs.25
In that sphere, Clinton, especially over the last couple of years, is making a difference. In 2006, in some African countries, the percentage of children getting ARVs was 2 or 3 percent of all those treated.26 Clinton stepped into this “gap,” says Kevin De Cock, because “they saw a role for themselves…. They’re looking for a niche and here there is one…. It’s a very specific area, it’s a deserving and visible area, it isn’t that huge and it was where they could make a contribution and claim some territory.”27
Richard Marlink appreciates this shift in Clinton’s focus to pediatric AIDS and he’s happy to work with Clinton’s people. However, Marlink says, they’re just “scratching the surface.” He expresses his frustration and would like to tell President Clinton, but hasn’t yet: “We need more bodies, nurses, pharmacists.” The Clinton Foundation, Marlink says, hasn’t the funding to accomplish that—not yet anyway, but there’s always another CGI to bring Clinton closer.28
Will Clinton stick with the AIDS work? Some of the doctors who work in Africa fear that he will lose interest, find some sexier, easier-to-solve issue to capture his imagination—and the headlines.
Early on, says Richard Marlink, Clinton stuck to his promise not to overcommit himself to “a lot of different countries.” But Marlink detects some backsliding and worries about it. “Of late, I think that they’re back to still just announcing things when it seems like it could get press.” Already in the hopper, says Marlink, were Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, and Rwanda. “With those four, we said, ‘That’s enough…. We’re volunteers here. We need to make commitments and then it’s going to be a long-term commitment to a few places, so that things can get accomplished. It’s not going to be every country you visit, not going to be making commitments you don’t have anything to back it up with…. This is not going to be solved in the next few years, if in our lifetime…. He agreed,…Ira agreed, everybody agreed.”29
But Clinton could not help himself. His foundation, which has a presence now in twenty-five countries, is, worries Kevin De Cock, spreading itself too thin.30 Moving beyond Africa, Clinton has expanded his scope to China, India, and Cambodia. The donor in Cambodia is Chris Stamos and his family. That came about after Ira Magaziner came to Stamos’s office and sold him on the idea, which appealed to Stamos because “there was very little work being done in getting people ARVs…and so for a commitment of $500,000 a year for three years, we could be their donor in Cambodia and get kids and adults on ARVs right away.” Stamos is happy with the result: “I have a hospital in Cambodia,…it treats 70,000 kids; it trains a thousand doctors and nurses for $800,000. I couldn’t stay [for that] in a hospital in New York for two weeks.”31
A spur to action in China came after Bill Clinton visited the country and publicly embraced an HIV-positive citizen. The country’s premier and vice premier followed suit and the next month shook hands with AIDS sufferers. China, the world’s most populous nation, has an estimated 650,000 people infected with HIV, although in a country in which the infected are shunned, the numbers are surely much bigger. Nearly 80 percent of HIV-positive Chinese do not know they are infected.32
Bill Bicknell does not endorse Clinton’s new focus on China and India because both countries have relatively strong economies. “Yes, they’ve got a problem, but if they choose to they can substantially handle it themselves.” Bicknell wants Clinton’s support to go to countries like Swaziland and Lesotho and Zambia, which “have very weak economies…. The support is now being spread without regard to national income and the strength of national economies, so countries like Lesotho…are getting screwed.”33 Richard Marlink agrees and would rather see Clinton stay focused on Africa. “To focus on places that are going to be the economic superpowers of tomorrow even with AIDS is not equitable.”34
Others, such as Eric Goosby, Kevin De Cock, and Richard Feachem, say that paying attention in China and India and also Russia is crucial. “Although the rates of infection in places like India and China may be low,” says De Cock, “a low rate of infection in these huge-population countries can amount to a lot of people.”35 Feachem calls it “a major mistake” to stick to Africa. “HIV/AIDS is a global problem. It’s not an African problem. The country with the most HIV-positive people today [in absolute numbers] is not an African country at all, it’s India, and growing rapidly.” He calls India, China, and Russia “the three time bombs, and if we lose the battle [there]…the world has lost.”36
Richard Marlink explains that he is not one of those people who are in awe of Bill Clinton. “I don’t want to be near him. I’m impressed by him but I don’t need to be enamored.”
When Clinton had a thank-you reception for volunteers in Harlem, Marlink introduced him to his wife who, in 1992, had booked Bill Clinton on the Arsenio Hall Show. The candidate donned sunglasses and played “Heartbreak Hotel” on the saxophone. “Clinton’s smooth as silk in terms of charming people,” Marlink says. Clinton did not neglect the husband. “I know what you’re doing,” and he named the countries in which Marlink was working and said, “Thank you for doing it.” Then he turned his attention back to the wife and started to reminisce. “They were having a great time,” so good a time that “I told him to step back and not get so close to her. He was laughing.”37
“I would hope that he does not kind of butterfly on to another issue,” says Eric Goosby. “He needs to hold this issue for the rest of his foundation’s life, and support it…. I’m a doctor who just lives and breathes this stuff, so I get annoyed…when he puts his attention to another activity that I know could have been framed with an HIV frame on it…CGI raising…billions of dollars for activities that range from anything to everything.”38
Kevin De Cock worries that Clinton might not have really found himself in this work, that his restless mind might be looking for something else. The evidence he cites is Clinton’s “dabbling in so many things. Partly because I don’t think he’s got the traction…. He hasn’t got the traction that he had hoped.”39
ONE COUNTRY to which Clinton is, by all accounts, unreservedly committed is Rwanda. The biggest regret of his presidency, Clinton has said, is not responding to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.40
Chris Stamos accompanied Clinton to the genocide museum in Kigali, Rwanda, on Clinton’s third visit. “I know I was crying,…and the president was definitely moved by what he was seeing there and from there we went to the clinic.” At the clinic a local reporter asked, “We know you’re dedicated to AIDS everywhere, but is there a particular dedication to Rwanda given what happened under your administration?”
“It didn’t happen under my administration,” Clinton replied. “It happened under me. I was the administration…. We could have done more. And I regret that we didn’t.”
The group then spent some time with Rwandan president Paul Kagame and Clinton also apologized to him.
According to Stamos, who has become friends with the Rwandan president, “Kagame loves President Clinton; he would have liked history to have been different…. The UN and the French take a lot more blame in Kagame’s mind…. On several occasions he has said…he loves Bill Clinton, he feels…that Clinton listens to the Rwandans, unlike some NGOs that come in and tell people what to do, or say ‘This is what we’re going to do in your country.’ Bill Clinton’s very respectful.”41
“It’s true that he has guilt feelings about Rwanda,” says Richard Marlink. “He talked to me when we first started the volunteer group. He wanted it to be the first place that had a public announcement that he was going to partner with the government there.”42
“Ira and I are here to help you,” Clinton says to Kagame. “What do you need? How can we help?” Kagame replies, “We’ve learned the hard way that if things don’t go well, the foreigners get on the plane and they leave and we’re left to deal with the consequences.”43
CLINTON’S WORK in Africa would polish his current image, but it would not cover lapses during the two terms noted by historians as they deconstructed his presidency. A reminder came in October 2005, when Bill and Hillary went to the Roosevelt estate in Hyde Park, New York, so he could receive one of the Four Freedom Awards from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. Tom Kean received one, as did former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and Cornel West, professor of religion at Princeton.44
“I think frankly all of us were reasonably good,” says Tom Kean. “West’s a preacher so he’s particularly articulate…. Brokaw was terrific.” But, says Kean, Bill Clinton got up and stole the show. He was “just head and shoulders above the rest of us.”45
Over wine and cheese, the former president chatted with historian Douglas Brinkley, who serves on the board of the institute. Brinkley mentioned the upcoming—not quite three weeks away—Hofstra Conference devoted to assessing the Clinton presidency, for which Brinkley was the endowed scholar. “Clearly at that juncture he hadn’t focused on it…. It was just another date on his…massively busy schedule. So I think he looked at the program and said, ‘Whoa, whoa, what am I walking into here?’”46
Clinton had been busy with his first CGI conference the month before, but he did have in the back of his mind the fast-approaching conference, titled “William Jefferson Clinton: The ‘New Democrat’ from Hope.” Clinton was determined that the public record of the gathering, which over the years had become a respected early evaluation of the American presidency, show his tenure at its best.
The three-day conference, November 10–12, 2005, at Hofstra University, a liberal arts school on Long Island, featured fifty panels covering specific domestic and foreign policy aspects of his presidency. Clinton was to speak on the first day.
Hofstra was obviously not Harvard or Aspen in terms of prestige, but the Hofstra conferences had developed a certain cachet since the first one was held in 1982 to evaluate Franklin Roosevelt. (More recently, they have been held five years after the man leaves office.) Clinton knew he could not allow the conference participants to confirm the increasingly common perception that he had been distracted from the nation’s business during the final three years of his term because of Monica Lewinksy and impeachment.
Eric Schmertz, a former dean of the Hofstra Law School who had directed four conferences starting with Eisenhower, and would direct Clinton’s as well, had been working on the Clinton event for three years, starting with a call for papers.47 He and his Hofstra colleagues had consulted with Clinton staffers to determine the makeup of the panels. Carolyn Eisenberg, a professor of American foreign policy, who had been involved with planning for the conferences on Carter, Reagan, and Bush, thought the Hofstra group was working too closely with Clinton’s people. “In my experience, this was the most tightly controlled conference that we’ve ever had.”
Eisenberg, named liaison between the faculty and Hofstra’s Cultural Center, which runs the university’s conferences, was a critic of Clinton’s from the Left, judging him as too much the centrist. She complains that the faculty recommendations on panel makeup were “not really very welcome…. We wanted this to be a serious academic conference…. That didn’t happen.” She blames both representatives of Hofstra and of the Clinton Foundation, although especially the latter.
In the last week or so, Eisenberg says, Clinton’s people focused most intensely on the conference and did not like what they saw.48 And they were not bashful about saying so. When the Clinton team “comes at you,” says Douglas Brinkley, “it’s like the Johnstown flood.”49 Eisenberg claims that Clinton’s team presented “a whole list of people that they wanted to be invited at the last minute and put on the program…. The program was changed very drastically.” An example, she says, was the addition of Bruce Reed, head of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, from whose ranks came both Clinton and Gore. Al From, who founded the group, was given a bigger role. “All the plenaries were filled up with Clinton people…. I did talk with someone at the [Clinton] Foundation who said that they were pretty amazed at how they were able to get the Hofstra officials to give in to all of their last-minute demands.”50
Eric Schmertz denies vehemently that Hofstra was bulldozed. Still, he describes quite a bit of back-and-forth. Clinton’s staffers told Schmertz that “the president took [the conference program] into his office…and was able to memorize the entire program, all of the topics…and who was participating.” It was then that Schmertz started to receive calls. “We’re troubled by such and such a panel…. The president thinks it’s out of balance.”
Schmertz claims he replied, “I’m sorry. You tell the president that we think it’s all right…. We think so-and-so on the panel, whom he might dislike, from our standpoint has to stay on the panel.” On the other hand, Schmertz adds, “Here and there we might add somebody to the panel that they suggested because to us it made sense; we had missed somebody of significance.” Schmertz insists that “very few of those Clinton requests” were accepted and only “if we decided it produced a better…balance.” He also insists that not once was a person removed from a panel at Clinton’s request.51
Natalie Datlof, executive director of the Hofstra Cultural Center, who has been at Hofstra for every presidential conference, says flatly, “We didn’t do anything unusual that we hadn’t done for any of the others.”52
Slade Gorton, former Republican senator from Washington, served on the panel on impeachment—he had been in the Senate when it voted to acquit—and he describes the panel as strongly biased in Clinton’s favor. Overall, he complains, “I was probably one of three Republicans in the entire program anywhere.” Gorton calls the conference “a reunion” for Clinton people; interestingly the same word that Elaine Kamarck uses in describing her experience in serving on a panel. “It was very nice, it was kind of a reunion.”53
Hofstra conferences “generally create an upward revision for the presidents,” says Douglas Brinkley, “because mostly it’s people from their administration coming.” But Brinkley, a former professor at Hofstra, seemed to worry that this one, under pressure from Bill Clinton—whose request to see conference papers was granted—was going a little too far to the celebratory. “We had four-fifths of the papers very positive about President Clinton. If we didn’t have some papers that were dissenting, it would have been a salute Bill Clinton party.”54
Clinton was especially irritated that the schedule included two panels on his impeachment. According to Natalie Datlof, “We told him up front that there would be panels on the impeachment and they understood that. We showed them who the scholars were; we gave them printouts.”55 Still, says Brinkley, “Hofstra started getting some pressure to drop [the two impeachment panels].” Brinkley confirms that the pressure was coming “directly from the Clinton camp.” Clinton’s people proposed that the impeachment panels be “knocked off” and a session featuring Clinton’s White House counsel, Lanny Davis, take its place. “You can’t replace scholars with your own lawyer,” Brinkley says. “It just became childish in my view.”56 (Davis at first agreed to be interviewed for this book but later changed his mind.) Stanislao Pugliese, a Hofstra professor of modern European history, describes what Clinton was trying to do as “an attempt at a kind of coup d’état.”57
Brinkley was prepared to go to battle. “I wanted people to realize that we weren’t whitewashing…. I had to defend that academic process when the pressure was to get rid of that panel and have Lanny Davis talk about impeachment.” To the university’s credit, says Brinkley, it never came to that. “There was never a second of consideration” that the impeachment panels would be quashed. “We would rather he not show up than to have canceled these professors who had written serious, academic papers on impeachment.”
Brinkley stresses that he is not “anti-Clinton…and I’m not a conservative at all…. But I don’t think you can whitewash the fact that he had lied to the American people and it gave his opponents the huge opportunity to derail his agenda. How do you talk about the Clinton years and not deal with Ken Starr and Monica Lewinsky and impeachment?”58
The other complaint about Bill Clinton was that he rushed in and out of the conference, giving no time to students. Carolyn Eisenberg was especially disappointed because, in conjunction with the conference, she was teaching a semester course on Clinton’s foreign policy. She organized a student debate, a project, she says, that they worked on for months. No one from the Clinton administration, much less the president himself, showed up. “That was really kind of sad.”59
Some presidents whose administrations are being evaluated meet with students and even attend some of the panels—Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush both attended with their wives and were a real presence, gracious and accessible; both Carter and Bush met with students. Clinton helicoptered to the Long Island campus from a speech at the Pierre Hotel in New York—for which he was paid $250,000—and then, hours later, helicoptered to JFK airport to board a private plane for a trip to the Czech Republic.
There was a “ridiculous lack of availability to students,” complains Eisenberg, who adds, “He was uninterested in…spending some time in our community which was in fact honoring him. Just didn’t care, wasn’t that interested in the give-and-take.”60
Hillary Clinton was invited but did not attend, nor did Chelsea, although presidents’ children have attended previous conferences.
Eight hundred people bought tickets to a lunch, preceding Clinton’s speech, keynoted by Clinton’s Treasury secretary, Robert Rubin. When Clinton arrived, late, as dessert and coffee were being served, Natalie Datlof describes the room as “just electrified.” As he walked to an adjoining room for a receiving line and photos with people who had backed the conference financially or had played a role in organizing it, “the crowd just rushed him,” says Datlof.61
Stanislao Pugliese, who had served as exhibition curator, was one of those in line to greet Clinton. He might not have bothered, he said—“I’m underwhelmed by Clinton”—but he belonged to a faculty group called Long Island Teachers for Human Rights. Its members had drafted a letter asking both President Clinton and Senator Clinton to speak out against the war in Iraq, “so I got on line to deliver the letter.”
Pugliese was watching Clinton as the line moved. “He was very gracious with everybody, smiling, shaking hands, posing for the photographs. After I said hello and I introduced myself…and I shook his hand and the official photographer took a photograph, I pulled the letter out of my jacket breast pocket and I gave it to him and said, ‘Mr. President, on behalf of some of my colleagues…I’d like to present you with this letter,’ and his demeanor immediately changed. He didn’t say anything, but the smile was gone and he silently handed off the letter to a Secret Service agent…. I was ushered out.” As he left the room, Pugliese turned back to look at Clinton. “He returned immediately to his public persona, smiling, ‘Hello, how are you?’”
The students’ outpouring of adoration had everything to do with Clinton’s rock star status and his perceived liberalism, says Pugliese. “They were interested, electrified by Clinton’s charisma. If you had asked them to name five specific policies, I’m not sure they would have been able to do that.” He judges the conference as a “love fest,…a lot of people from the administration and…not enough people I think who were critical.”62
Neither Clinton responded to the letter.63
The scene in the university’s basketball stadium where people were awaiting Clinton’s speech—a capacity crowd of nearly five thousand—was total adoration. Students were “hanging over their seats,” says Datlof, “trying to reach out and touch him.”64
A Clinton aide approached Douglas Brinkley and ushered him over to talk to the former president. Clinton had seen an article in that day’s Newsday, in which Brinkley was quoted as saying, “I think the gorilla in the room is his impeachment problem,” which Brinkley called a “great curse on the Clinton legacy…. There is an argument to be made if you didn’t have the whole impeachment problem, Bill Clinton would go down as a great president.” The problem, adds Brinkley, is “We did have the impeachment.”65
“Clinton…put his arm around my shoulder,” Brinkley recalls. “‘I just want to tell you something. I’m going to both really praise you but also challenge you today…. I just wanted to let you know in advance.’”66
After an introduction by his secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, Clinton spoke, without notes—although he had bullet points written on a small pad—for a full hour. From his perspective onstage, university president Stuart Rabinowitz judged Clinton to have “the audience in his pocket…. People love him or hate him and in this room they all loved him.”67
When Clinton got to the subject of impeachment, says Brinkley, “his praise was saying that I was one of the historians he most admired…and then came the challenge, ‘but I disagree that the impeachment was a black mark on my tenure.’…He went off to claim that it should be seen as an historic accomplishment because he warded off the right-wing conspiracy, and if he didn’t challenge them and beat them back it would have been an horrific thing for our democracy.” He called impeachment “an egregious abuse of the Constitution and the law and history of this country, and I should get credit for standing up to it.” Clinton also denied that he was distracted from his presidential responsibilities because of the Lewinsky affair and proceeded to list the things he accomplished while the impeachment was pending.
His speech might have wowed the students, but it did not persuade Brinkley, who maintains, “What is stopping him from hitting that rare category of great presidents—of Lincoln, Washington, FDR, TR, Harry Truman—is that impeachment problem…. No matter what happens, President Clinton will be living with that. It’s almost like a scarlet letter. It’s like a big I on his chest for impeachment, and he’ll always be remembered for all of that, and that’s one part of his legacy.”
If that speech was a window into Clinton’s mind, says Brinkley, it shows “how wounded he still is,” how tired he is of “impeachment constantly rear[ing] its ugly face, and he has to bat it back.” Clinton recognizes, Brinkley says, “that if he’s going to try to rebuild his legacy, he’s going to somehow have to sell this notion that impeachment was a badge of honor.”
Brinkley left the stadium with veteran presidential adviser David Gergen, who, Brinkley recalls, shook his head in dismay and observed that Clinton acted like “a used car salesman trying to convince you that his impeachment was a badge of honor.” Brinkley agreed, “We’re not an audience of fools; people aren’t going to go, ‘Oh, my God, yeah, it was a badge of honor.’”68
While the audience greeted the speech as if it were the Gettysburg Address, those who knew Clinton did not think it was one of his better efforts. “When he got into the impeachment stuff,” says Leon Panetta, “[he] tried his best to put the best spin on that but it was obvious he was being defensive about it.”69
Elaine Kamarck calls the speech “very odd, particularly his contorted defense of his own behavior.” She said that she found his argument with Douglas Brinkley “kind of embarrassing and he shouldn’t have even tried.”70
One woman who knows Clinton well describes the speech as “Clinton’s somewhat desperate attempt to create for himself a legacy that overshadows his second term and his big mistake. That’s what motivates the guy; that’s what eats at him; that’s what makes him furious…. [The Hofstra speech] is quite revealing in how he’s attempting to argue away his misbehavior…. Clinton doesn’t want to admit that it was basically he that lost the 2000 election for Al Gore.” She calls Clinton’s postpresidency complicated, “because part of it is trying to say, ‘I was great in spite of it.’”71
The speech, delivered to “true believers,” was “typical Clinton…engaging and witty and occasionally flirted with the truth,” says Slade Gorton, “and when he was talking about impeachment, he said at one point, ‘Well, I understand there’s someone here at this conference who voted guilty on one count and not guilty on the other count and I’ve never figured it out and I’d really like to know.’…So I’m sitting back there in the audience saying to myself, ‘Well, all you have to do is come to my panel and ask the question and I’ll answer it for you.’ But of course he was long gone by the time we met in the evening.” (Gorton, along with ten other senators, cast a no for perjury and a yes for obstruction of justice; he was defeated for reelection in 2000.)72
Michael Barone, a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report, figures that behind Clinton’s attitude is, “You know what? They would have gotten rid of any other president, but I am so good they could not get rid of me. Any other president had done that, they would have been screwed.”73
Carolyn Eisenberg certainly disagrees with those who want to examine Clinton’s sex life under the microscope, but she found his speech insulting, given the university audience—too much like a political stump speech. “I think it was sort of boilerplate.”74
With the audience already surging forward, Clinton, in his business suit, received an honorary degree in humane letters. “He completed his speech,” Eric Schmertz recalls. “We rushed up and gave him an honorary degree and we all got out of there.”75 (Typically a cap and gown is required, but not this time.)76
Stuart Rabinowitz recalls that the crowd rushing up after the speech “scared the heck out of me…. It was like a campaign event because they were just reaching out trying to touch him and shake his hand…. He appeared to love it. In his usual style, he paid no attention to the Secret Service or our people and just waded into the crowd and shook hands and signed things.”
Rabinowitz, who was delighted with the attention the conference brought to Hofstra and the handwritten letter and telephone call of thanks he received from Bill Clinton, has already told Hillary Clinton to mark her calendar for 2021 when the conference evaluating her two-term presidency will be held. Rabinowitz has a relationship with Hillary as his home state senator. “I make two trips a year down to Washington, frankly looking for federal dollars for our program. And Senator Clinton has been very helpful to Hofstra in many different ways.”77
The more cynical among the Hofstra faculty might have wondered if, in the end, the rather gentle treatment Bill Clinton received from Hofstra had any connection to top administrators wanting to make certain that Hillary Clinton, while she was still senator from New York, continued to look kindly on Hofstra.
President Clinton on his last morning in the Oval Office with his chief of staff, John Podesta. “It was very hard for him to let go,” says Melanne Verveer, Hillary’s last chief of staff as First Lady. “He loved being president. He loved the house. He loved his relationship with the American people. He did not leave easily.”
The Clintons and the Bushes on the North Portico of the White House before leaving for Bush’s inauguration. Clinton knew that many Democrats blamed him for the fact that it was not Al Gore who was about to be inaugurated.
Inside an Andrews Air Force Base hangar, Clinton, no longer president, reviewed a full military honor guard, the military band substituting “Ruffles and Flourishes” for “Hail to the Chief.” Scores of people who had served in his administration had come to say goodbye. “When you leave the White House you wonder if you’ll ever draw a crowd again,” he said, in a voice hoarse from exhaustion.
On January 22, 2001, two days after leaving the White House, Bill and Hillary leave their house in Chappaqua to take Bill’s dog, Buddy, for a walk. Hillary, just elected to the Senate, would soon leave for Washington and the former president, isolated, lonely, and deluged with criticism over scandals that erupted as he exited the White House, would once again have to depend on Buddy for companionship. A year later, while the Clintons vacationed in Acapulco, Buddy died after escaping from the house and running into traffic on a nearby highway.
Bill Clinton, a couple of weeks out of the White House on February 6, 2001, plays golf with Hillary’s brother, Hugh Rodham. Clinton was in Florida to make his first paid speech—to Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Company’s Global Leveraged Finance Conference for a fee of $125,000, modest by comparison to later fees. It was marred by misgivings from the company’s chairman that the scandal-scarred former president was perhaps not worthy of the invitation. His speech was a success, as was one given four days later in a Florida synagogue for $150,000.
Typical of the awful press Bill Clinton garnered in the months after he left the White House was this Time cover story of February 26, 2001, “The Incredible Shrinking Ex-President: How Can We Miss You If You Never Go Away?; Smelly pardons, expensive gifts, deluxe offices—is this any way for a former President to behave?”
Testifying before a congressional committee about the Marc Rich pardon is Jack Quinn (far left), a former White House counsel to Clinton who pushed him to grant the pardon. Also testifying were three close Clinton aides, two of whom advised strongly against the pardon, which blew up into a scandal so virulent that the New York Times editorialized, “We sense a national need to come to grips with the wreckage, both civic and legal, left by former President Clinton.”
The former president accepts greetings as he moves into his postpresidential offices in Harlem. Clinton managed to turn a damaging story about high-rent offices in midtown Manhattan—the bill footed by the taxpayers—into a positive story about reasonably priced rent on 125th Street in Harlem.
Former Senator Robert Torricelli, pictured here in 2002, remains a close friend of Bill Clinton’s. In the lead-up to the Clinton impeachment, Torricelli would often receive calls from an agitated and forlorn president.
In 2003, President Clinton and former senator Bob Dole—Clinton’s opponent in the 1996 presidential race—flank Don Hewitt, the creator of CBS’s 60 Minutes. Hewitt, who proposed an update on the James Kilpatrick/Shana Alexander “Point/Counterpoint,” wanted Bill O’Reilly or Newt Gingrich as Clinton’s sparring partner and was correct in his hunch that the exchanges between Clinton and Dole, political opponents but personal friends, would create few sparks. Hewitt cancelled the face-off after ten weeks.
Bill Clinton admires his portrait as it is unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery in April 2006. Reporters quickly noticed that the painter, Nelson Shanks, had inadvertently painted Clinton without his wedding band. A New York Post reporter turned the innocent omission into a laugh line: “The artist who painted Bill Clinton’s…portrait managed to do what Monica Lewinsky could not: make Bubba’s wedding ring disappear.”
Looking older than his memoir cover photo, Bill Clinton signs books in Manhattan. The reviews were mixed at best, but sales were good—breaking opening-day records for a nonfiction book by selling 400,000 copies. His publicity tour was cut short when chest pains and shortness of breath resulted in quadruple bypass surgery less than three months later.
Dr. Craig Smith of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center on Labor Day 2004, talking to reporters after performing quadruple bypass surgery on Bill Clinton. Days before, tests revealed more than 90 percent blockage in several arteries. Reporters quickly discovered that Smith, the lead surgeon on a twelve-member team, had contributed that year to the reelection campaign of George W. Bush.
Seven weeks after his bypass surgery, an emaciated Bill Clinton campaigns with John Kerry in downtown Philadelphia. During the lunch-break rally of some 80,000 people, the crowd shouted, “We love you, Bill!” “If this isn’t good for my heart, I don’t know what is,” Clinton responded.
The rain never stopped during the dedication of Clinton’s presidential library in Little Rock in November 2004. That sodden day produced the roots of a friendship between Clinton and George H. W. Bush, who said of the man who beat him in the 1992 election: “Bill Clinton showed himself to be more than a good politician. In the White House, the whole nation witnessed his brilliance…. The president was not the kind to give up a fight. His staffers were known to say that if Clinton were the Titanic, the iceberg would sink.”
Bill Clinton and Terry McAuliffe, his fund-raiser, golfing buddy, vacation companion, political operative, and nonstop booster. McAuliffe appears to have devoted his adult life to raising money for the Clintons and bailing them out of embarrassing situations. He is currently serving as chairman of Hillary’s campaign.
The former presidents traveled together to countries in Asia and Africa hit by the tsunami. In Sri Lanka on February 21, 2005, they talked to children, many of whom had lost their families and homes. Inspired by the erstwhile rivals working together, Americans donated $1.2 billion to tsunami relief.
Belinda Stronach is twenty years younger than Bill Clinton, a Canadian MP, and the daughter of a billionaire auto parts merchant. When a tabloid ran a photo of Bill and Belinda leaving a midtown New York restaurant, Clinton supporters grew worried. “Bubba’s Got a Brand New Blonde,” blared one headline. Her biographer notes, “She’s not the kind you’d want to ask for her favorite muffin recipe.” If there ever was a relationship, it is said to be over.
Bill Clinton and his friend Nelson Mandela at Mandela’s home in Johannesburg in July 2005. Clinton visits the former South African president every year on his birthday. During the worst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Mandela said, “I just don’t understand what your country is doing to this great man.”
In November 2005, at the Hofstra Conference assessing his presidency, Bill Clinton accepts an honorary degree from university president Stuart Rabinowitz. Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who introduced him to the capacity crowd of nearly 5,000, is at his left.
At the funeral of Coretta Scott King on February 7, 2006, Jimmy Carter takes the microphone as Bill and Hillary applaud. The Clintons’ decades-long relationship with Carter was frosty. He won no points with either Clinton when he publicly castigated Bill over his affair with Monica Lewinsky and his pardon of fugitive from American justice Marc Rich.
Hillary speaks at Coretta Scott King’s funeral in February 2006 as Bill looks on. His euphoric, pulsating eulogy compared to her stiff, off-key effort became the headline. “When you look at a 150-watt bulb right in your face,” said one supporter of Hillary’s, “it looks really bright; put it next to the sun, it doesn’t look so bright anymore.”
Bill Clinton with two of his closest friends and biggest financial supporters, movie producer Stephen Bing, left, and businessman Ron Burkle, at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in September 2006. Both men are known as playboys, and Clinton often travels with them on their private jets. One journalist who has written about Clinton says, “He likes being around them…. He likes the beautiful women…and he likes…the fact that they’ll cut him fat checks…and help to enhance his lifestyle….”
A red-faced Bill Clinton jabs his finger at Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace in September 2006, after Wallace suggested that Clinton was distracted and did not do enough to fight terrorism during his presidency, making him partly responsible for 9/11. “So you did Fox’s bidding on this show,” Clinton hissed at the nonplussed Wallace. “You did your nice little conservative hit job on me.” Some people who are close Clinton observers say he went loaded for bear to the Wallace interview, that he had rehearsed his rant. “It was clear that he had been waiting for that question for a long time,” says Leon Panetta.
Bill Clinton holds an orphan girl in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 2006. The former president’s efforts to tackle the AIDS epidemic in third-world countries define his postpresidency work.
Fearing that Bill would overshadow Hillary as she fought for the democratic nomination for president, her managers kept the former president at bay. When Barack Obama threatened her lock on the nomination, Bill was strutted out in March 2007 to join Hillary in Selma, Alabama, to mark the anniversary of “Bloody Sunday.” Here they march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge where, forty-two years before, state troopers had attacked peaceful demonstrators. The Reverend Al Sharpton, whose endorsement both Obama and Hillary sought, is on the far right, next to local activist Rose Sanders. Congressman John Lewis, on the left, later threw his support to Obama.
Sitting off to the side of a stage at a fund-raiser in Washington in March 2007, Bill Clinton watches his wife attempt to reach a crowd.
Bill Clinton on one of his frequent appearances on Larry King Live—this one on April 19, 2007. The talk-show host, who admits to loving the former president, says that despite Clinton’s lapses in office, “History will be very good to Bill Clinton.”
Relations between Al Gore and Bill Clinton have been strained since Gore lost the 2000 election. He blames Clinton and the scandals surrounding Monica Lewinsky for his defeat. Currently a crusader against global warming, he participates in the Clinton Global Initiatives. In 2007, Gore was awarded an honor that Clinton covets—the Nobel Peace Prize.
Bill and Chelsea celebrate Hillary’s birthday in October 2007. Chelsea lives in New York and earns a high income working for a hedge fund run by financial supporters of her parents. The father/daughter relationship was strained by the Lewinsky scandal, but the two are said to be close.