IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Clinton's legacy still needs a little bit of work

I have always believed that Americans should revere their former presidents, but Bill Clinton's P.R. machine is making that hard to do.
Former US President Bill Clinton speaks at the Voter Fund event in New York's Apollo Theater, May 11, 2004. Clinton joked on Tuesday that he needs to finish his memoirs because "I need my life back." Chip East / Reuters file

In second grade, I started reading short biographies of U.S. presidents.  I read about John Kennedy's war exploits, his race to the moon, and his early death. I liked Kennedy because a book said he got bad grades in school.  This was a president that even a 7-year-old could relate to.  There was no mention of Marilyn Monroe, sex scandals, or Vietnam assassination plots. 

My interest in Kennedy led me to read books on Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt.  My grandmother told me about how life was livable in rural Georgia during darkest days of the Great Depression because of FDR. 

I remember my poor friends who lived in trailer parks outside Meridian, Mississippi, leaving a pickup basketball game after school one day.  They reappeared hours later wearing a clip-on tie that their mothers had obviously stuck on them, because that was the day that Independence, Missouri, buried Harry Truman. 

My father stuck by Nixon until the bitter end.  And when I had children, I told them about the goodness in Jimmy Carter's heart, even if I believe he was the most overmatched president in the history of the White House. 

I am not exactly sure what I am going to tell my young daughter about Bill Clinton.  The 42nd president remains as vexing as ever, blaming his behavior with "Monica-gate" on Ken Starr, on right-wing zealots, and now even his abusive stepfather.  Clinton claims that he never let bin Laden slip out of his hands and that’s simply false.  The claim that being impeached was a badge of honor shows that Bill Clinton is still unwilling to accept personal responsibility for his personal failings. 

Sure, he still draws stars, like he did Monday night at the book launch party in New York's Metro tonight at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

But Bill Clinton could have been more than a star.  He could have been a great president, but he wasn’t.  As one of the most gifted political minds of our time, I think the final chapter on Bill Clinton has yet to be written.  And this man still appears to have Jay Gatsby’s riotous heart.

Here’s to hoping, one day, I can turn the page of a book over to Bill Clinton’s picture and say to my daughter, Kate, like everybody, that Bill Clinton made some mistakes when he was president, but he learned from those mistakes and he grew up to be a great man.

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing to say about Bill Clinton when it was his time to go home?