Personal attacks in politics bemoaned

We may never see the likes of Bill Clinton again. And that, journalist Joe Klein (C’68) suggested, would be a real shame.

Klein — the once-anonymous author of “Primary Colors,” the roman à clef of the ’92 Clinton campaign — was the featured speaker at a Fox Leadership Program forum on “The Clinton Legacy and the Future of the Bush Presidency” Jan. 23.

Klein said he admired Clinton as a larger-than-life politician, and that his faults were an essential part of that picture. As he said about another figure later, “My idea of a good president is one who cheated on his wife and destroyed his marriage, drank a gallon of martinis a day, played poker with his staff and cheated at that, lied to the American people and my grandfather voted for him four times — Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

Unfortunately, Klein said, focus-group-driven campaigning, journalists’ cynicism and the media’s obsession with personal peccadilloes all discourage such figures from public service.

The way to break this vicious cycle, he told the audience, is through shared sacrifice of the kind that military recruits experience. “We need a generation more like my parents’, who had to sacrifice to become citizens, than [like] mine, which is a generation of dilettantes,” he said.

Klein’s fellow panelists agreed. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Jane Eisner lamented contemporary “Gotcha!” journalism.

Former Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode praised the joys of service. “When students see their involvement making a difference, volunteerism increases,” he said. But Klein cautioned that there is a difference between volunteering and giving a year or two of one’s life to government service.

And former White House intern Adam Magnus (C’01) contrasted Clinton’s well-defined persona with George W. Bush’s. “I personally feel I don’t know anything about Bush,” he said.

Panel moderator and Fox Leadership Professor John DiIulio (C’80) suggested that the public underestimates Bush’s level of concern for society’s worst off, citing his campaign kickoff speech as evidence. But, he noted, “It’s clear that’s how he defines himself, but it’s not how his party defines itself.”


Originally published on February 1, 2001