I am acknowledging at the outset that this blog post is going to be ultimately deficient because I cannot find the exact quote to pay off what I have selected today to write about. I do, however, have a pretty clear recollection of what was said and what, at least to my ears, was its underlying intention. So I decided to proceed anyway. Take it for what it is. With apologizes for what it needed to be, but isn’t.
First, some backstory.
I came to this country in 1974. By 1992, meaning for the subsequent eighteen years, I was a “Resident Alien” but not an American citizen. I resisted becoming a citizen, because of what America represented to me in my head. Sure, it was the “Land of Opportunity” – and I have undeniably enjoyed its beneficences. But notwithstanding its positive attributes, America, to me, also meant slavery, the obliteration of two Japanese cities and the heartbreaking mistreatment of the American Indians.
Thinking that way, I was understandably reluctant to… you know… if I’m an American citizen, I am not just the good parts…
I am that now too.
So I didn’t sign up.
Then, in 1992, Bill Clinton ran for president. As a candidate, Clinton seemed excitingly different. Closer to my age, smart, charismatic. The candidate seemed ideologically in sync with the way our generation wanted things in this country to change. There were unquestionably places where our belief systems diverged but, overall, we were not that far apart. It would be like voting for somebody I knew.
I decided to become a citizen. Primarily, so I could be a part of electing Bill Clinton.
I have written about this before. Owing to the aforementioned unresolved issues relating to identifying with this country in toto, my unconscious mind got in the game, creating a ssenario wherein, although I had studied assiduously for my upcoming Citizenship Test, I arrived for my interview appointment on the wrong day, specifically, two days after I was supposed to be there.
And they told me to go home.
So I did.
I did not return to that office for seven years, when, in 1999, I showed up on the right day, passed my Citizenship Test and was eventually sworn in.
(I explain the seven-year hiatus by saying that I was hoping that during the interim, the Immigration Officials from 1992 might have all retired, relieving me of the ignominy of bumping into anyone who might squint at me suspiciously and say, “Aren’t you the guy who showed up on the wrong day?”)
My first official vote was in the Presidential Election of 2000, where I voted for Al Gore, who won, but did not become President. Call it a split victory. Not for Al Gore. For me. By then, Bill Clinton had gone. At least from the presidency, if not from the obscenely remunerative public speaking circuit.
As president, Bill Clinton had disappointed me. You know how I talk about the “recipe”, that precise blending of ingredients that makes something uniquely what it is (or someone uniquely what they are)? Well for me, although he talked about “us” – specifically about his feeling our pain – Bill Clinton’s recipe was, to my tastes, unpalatably overly ingrediented with “me.” (Even his feeling our pain was in the final analysis about him, and how wonderfully sensitive he was being able to do that. To me, his pronouncement smacked of self-aggrandizement, packaged manipulatively as “heart.”)
That is my only point today. It is not Clinton’s policy record, which I am unqualified to evaluate, but about his outrageous and seemingly congenitally needy “me-ism.”
Clinton’s stylistic deviousness came crashing back like a meteor slamming into the earth when I was flipping around the channels recently, and I came upon a speech the former president was giving. I can’t find it on Youtube, so I cannot enlighten you concerning the occasion. But such facts are irrelevant to the issue at hand, that issue being what I heard the former president say.
Nearing the end of his prepared remarks, Bill Clinton turned to how, in international disputes, particularly the longstanding ones, it is not outsiders who determine the ultimate outcome of events, it is the participants (those being the adversaries) themselves.
And here’s where I wish I had the exact wording. Because it was priceless.
Admittedly paraphrasing, former President Bill Clinton said something very much like this:
“ In Ireland, they think I’m a hero. I’m not a hero. The real heroes are the Irish people who finally found a way to put an end to their hostilities. They love me in Kosovo, but they’re wrong. The credit for working things out belongs, not to me, but to determined and dedicated people of Kosovo themselves.” (I believe Clinton mentioned a third example of people somewhere in the world adoring, but I cannot remember what that was.)
Bill Clinton had a valuable point to make about who is ultimately responsible for solving the problems in other countries. But there are certainly other ways of making it. Such as:
“I am proud to have had a hand in reaching the solutions hammered out in Ireland and in Kosovo. But the real credit for their success should truly go to the people of Ireland and Kosovo.”
You see the difference? The second version – honest, direct, and legitimately humble. Including no mention whatsoever of the fact that the people of Ireland think he’s a hero and the people of Kosovo love him. Even though they are apparently mistaken for doing so.
In an effort to “set the record straight”, the former president subliminally let slip that the man is internationally acclaimed.
It’s too bad.
Bill Clinton seemed really special in 1992.