FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Twilight of the Grifter: Bill Clinton’s Fading Powers

In the warm twilight of a spring evening 15 years ago, in the quiet, green garden of Rhodes House at Oxford, I watched Bill Clinton give an impromptu talk to a group of graduate students who had gathered around him with their glasses of wine after an official function earlier in the day. (I was there in a service capacity.) He was pushing the same line he espoused last week while campaigning for Hillary, when he declared that he had “killed himself” to get a state for the Palestinians at the high-stakes Camp David summit in 2000.

At one point in the twilight talk at Oxford, he quoted — or claimed to quote — Yasser Arafat as testimony to his altruistic efforts: “Arafat told me, ‘Mr President, you have done more for the Palestinian people than all the Arab leaders combined!’” Sadly, the pressures those short-sighted Arabs brought to bear on Bill’s friend Yasser thwarted Clinton’s painstaking and heroic labors on the Palestinians’ behalf, and the summit failed.

I admit, Clinton is (or was) good at this kind of thing. He held the group in the palm of his hand, speaking with an engaged — and engaging — passion, direct and personal, without soaring rhetoric or the practiced glibness of the professional politician. It was interesting to see this phenomenon up close. In the immediate spell of his performance, you hardly noticed the great hubris and arrogance in what he actually said: that he alone had almost brought peace to the Middle East, that he loved the Palestinians more than the Arabs themselves did, that no one could have done more than he did to resolve the situation — all the while reducing Arafat to the role of a servile coolie, who humbly attests to the Master’s greatness and nobility.

And even though I knew at the time there was hardly a word of truth in what he said, I could still feel the tidal pull of his charisma, the temptation to let go and believe in the portrait, the fantasy, he was painting. Indeed, I think Clinton himself probably believed it, at least in the moment of its telling — which is course the hallmark, the supreme talent, of a master grifter.

Of course, that was long ago. Watching Clinton today on the campaign trail for Hillary, it seems clear that his charisma has severely decayed, perhaps rotted by the years of money-grubbing with oligarchs and despots. Or maybe it’s just the natural fading that comes with age and disuse. (When I saw him, he was only a few weeks out of his presidency, still at the top of his game with the skills he’d honed during decades of continual politicking.) Now he seems brittle, rattled and scattered; he can summon the spirits, in a wan attempt to paint over the truth — but they no longer come when he calls.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 9.15.13 AM

More articles by:

Chris Floyd is a columnist for CounterPunch Magazine. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at www.chris-floyd.com.

September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail