Clinton Commotion Just Keeps Going

Wednesday, February 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — George Bush did the dishes and walked the dog. Jimmy Carter contemplated his memoirs. Ronald Reagan rode off to the ranch. Most ex-presidents spend their first months out of office quietly, readjusting to private life.

Bill Clinton? Well, it's as if he never left.

He's still Topic A on TV talk shows, dominating headlines, attracting jostling crowds and providing mountains of fodder for critics from the right, not to mention an outburst or two from his own party.

``He's larger than life,'' said Columbia University historian Henry Graff. ``He kind of encourages it.''

The former president was greeted like a rock star Tuesday in New York City when he turned up in Harlem to check out potential office space after his earlier plan to rent an expensive spread in midtown Manhattan drew strong criticism. ``We love you!'' adoring fans called out.

The Clinton commotion is everywhere.

On Capitol Hill, a House committee is expanding its investigation into Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, and a Senate panel is taking its own look at the pardon. At the White House, work goes on to sort out gifts that Clinton and his wife sent back under fire. There is even theoretical talk about whether Clinton could be impeached again.

The pardon is such a touchy subject that a Democratic senator, Joseph Biden of Delaware, suggested on the Sunday talk-show circuit that Clinton may have been ``brain-dead when he did that one.''

While other recent ex-presidents waited months before joining the paid lecture circuit, Clinton gave his first paid speech — a $100,000 appearance at a Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. conference in Florida — barely two weeks after leaving office. Company officials caught so much flak from clients that they apologized. Word surfaced Wednesday that London-based firm UBS Warburg has backed away from having the ex-president speak because of the controversies surrounding him.

For his part, President Bush found himself answering questions yet again Tuesday about his predecessor, and suggested he's coming down with a case of Clinton fatigue.

``My attitude is, it's time to move on,'' Bush said.

Clinton's ``last acts continue to haunt him,'' said George Washington University historian Leo Ribuffo.

Opinion is divided, however, on how much of the recent controversy Clinton has brought upon himself by ill-thought and clumsy actions and how much of it is generated by vindictive critics who just won't let go.

Clinton spokeswoman Julia Payne complains that Republicans are just ``piling on.''

Just like old times, former White House spokesman Joe Lockhart was on morning TV on Tuesday defending Clinton and complaining that Republicans have set ``a new standard for criticism of ex-presidents.''

Ribuffo said the controversies have sticking power because the things Clinton is being criticized for ``are so Clintonesque.''

It's not as if other ex-presidents haven't popped back into the news — they just usually wait a while.

Former President Bush went home to Houston and virtually vanished for a time after ceding the White House to Clinton.

``I am staying away from the head table, for the most part, and I am out of the interview business,'' Bush wrote two weeks after leaving office.

He described himself as the guy who loads the dishwasher, starts the coffee machine and walks the dogs. He delivered his first paid speech four months after leaving office, but has kept a fairly low profile.

``There was something about his upbringing that didn't allow him to want to hog the show,'' Graff says of Bush, a patrician New Englander.

Reagan signed a book deal and began delivering speeches after his exit from the White House but quickly made it clear that he ``genuinely enjoyed retirement'' in California, says Ribuffo.

Carter, for his part, went home to Plains, Ga., to nurse his wounds and contemplate what he described as ``an altogether new, unwanted and potentially empty life.''

Fixing up his home was useful therapy after Reagan defeated him, as was beginning work on his memoirs. Virtually all speaking invitations were declined for months. It was years before the ousted president rebounded to claim his place as a peacemaker in trouble spots around the world and a tireless advocate for housing the poor.

At 54, Clinton is the youngest former president since Theodore Roosevelt. He's settling in New York, which Hillary Rodham Clinton represents in the Senate, because he didn't really have a home to return to. Don't look for him fade away anytime soon.

As Clinton himself told cheering supporters in a farewell speech on Inauguration Day, ``I left the White House, but I'm still here. We're not going anywhere.''


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