Meantime, though, on the same topic... I watched the Chris Matthews MSNBC News special President of the World: The Bill Clinton Phenomenon, with a feeling of some dread, largely because of its hyperventilating title which, to me at least, evoked the image of the "Ugly American" striding the world with the arrogant assumption of knowing what's best for other countries, other peoples. Instead, especially in view of the gloom I have be spreading in my past few posts, I was pleased to be watching something that was really rather inspiring. The program explored the multiple ways in which the former President is using his energy, his fund-raising ability and his irresistible personal charisma to spread goodwill and compassion in the world.
In contrast to the anger and animosity that dominate our current political scene, the prevailing mood that Bill Clinton projects is joy--and the joy is evidently infectious. Wherever he goes, he seems surrounded by joyous crowds, no matter the often desperate conditions of their lives, singing and dancing and jostling to touch him. He brings, as much as anything, hope. And it's clear that he inspires the same in the wealthy of this world, who flock to his conferences, generously support his causes, and feel better about themselves as a result.
It's Clinton's enthusiasm and generosity of heart that represents the best of America, and the mean spirit and small-mindedness of those who tried to drag him down that represents the worst. We do not know much, of course, about the life and work of those former Presidents who choose to withdraw from the glare of public life; but it's hard not to make the comparison between Clinton and his quieter, perhaps more modest fellow-Democrat, Jimmy Carter, and the two Bushes. The latter two, I know, have stepped forward in emergencies, but so far as I'm aware are not involved in the kind of continuing, daily, dedicated activity of Clinton and Carter to bring about change for the better in our world.
And I can't resist the opportunity to observe the similarities between Clinton and our current President. Both rode into office on a great wave of hope: remember "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow" and the ecstasy of the Clinton inauguration? Yet Republicans sought to destroy him, as they are now attempting to destroy Obama, through insult, deliberate lies and personal attack. Clinton was literally and irrationally hated, as Obama is widely, irrationally hated today. Both took a "shellacking" in the mid-term elections during their first term. And both were constrained to move to the center, to the dismay and outrage--remember this?--of those who had placed so much hope in them for an about-turn in American politics.
Hope, it seems to me, is all about ourselves. We merely project it onto others, expect them to fulfill it for us, and get upset with them when they fail to live up to our projections. It's up to us, if we indulge in the luxury of hope, to do the work necessary to fulfill it for ourselves. If we can trust the Chris Matthews special to provide an accurate picture of Bill Clinton--and I'm inclined to believe, despite the title, that we can--he offers us the example of a man who's doing just that. Which is, to repeat myself, inspiring.