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"I'm starting to like the guy."


Is It Time for Republicans to Embrace Bill Clinton?

“I’m starting to like the guy.”

When I ask my Liberal friends why they loathe President Bush so deeply (not his policies or his politics, but the man himself), I am often told by them that Conservatives ?¢â??¬???started it?¢â??¬  by loathing Bill Clinton. I haven?¢â??¬â??¢t researched the number of Clinton-bashing books vs. those excoriating Mr. Bush, but I will concede that the numbers might be close.

My own personal distaste for Bill Clinton had less to do with his Oval Office escapades than his actions afterward. Two events were particularly distasteful. The first was his initial post-allegation Cabinet meeting. You may remember that the Cabinet members were dutifully trotted out (women out front, as I recall) to support their man and express faith that his denials were true. Now, while I can hardly blame a husband for denying everything, it?¢â??¬â??¢s another thing to falsely enlist the aid of trusted public servants to make your case. It seems to me that he might just as easily have told them that this was an issue he would deal with, and they were not to comment in any way.

The second event involved the concerted effort to trash Monica Lewinsky. Administration officials began calling her ?¢â??¬???delusional?¢â??¬  and referring to her as a ?¢â??¬???stalker?¢â??¬ . I have no doubt that, absent the infamous dress stain, the effort would have continued and accelerated and she would have been completely discredited. (She may never have even been able to host a TV reality show.) Neither of these events, of course, was directly tied to foreign or domestic policy, but they struck me as indications that President Clinton was not a very nice man.

However, now that time has passed, I think all Republicans should rejoice in Bill Clinton?¢â??¬â??¢s presidency and begin to recognize what he has meant to the GOP. First and foremost, the Democrats lost both houses of Congress on his watch, and, except for a slight bump in the road when Senator Jim Jeffords left the fold, that hold on Congress has been maintained ever since.

The ironic twist is that Clinton, despite those political and personal setbacks, remained and remains extraordinarily popular among Democrats, and that popularity does not appear to be transferable. Just ask Al Gore. Mr. Clinton — and his wife — are the only true stars of the Party, and that means that everyone else fades in the face of their glow. I wouldn?¢â??¬â??¢t be surprised to learn that Clinton cost John Kerry more votes than he gained for him whenever they appeared together. Imagine being part of a crowd enraptured by the presence of Bill Clinton, and then having to listen to a speech by John Kerry!

I used to hear Republicans grouse that, since he was a relatively young man, Bill Clinton would be a part of the political landscape for decades to come. I say, ?¢â??¬???Yippee!?¢â??¬  His continuing presence not only dims other potential stars in the Democratic universe, it makes that party look even more extreme. Clinton, after all, was willing to compromise if he thought it would be beneficial to him. Those compromises (as in welfare reform) were often an anathema to much of his Party, but they were unwilling to criticize a winner. Now that lack of a spirit of compromise looks even more glaring.

Think, too, of what the Clintons have meant to the book publishing industry and the fund raising efforts of Conservative groups. Baseball fans west of New York City might hate the Yankees, but Yankee-hating is a good thing for the sport. Stadiums sell out, ratings go up and a team?¢â??¬â??¢s own shortcomings can be blamed on someone else.

There?¢â??¬â??¢s one other thing. I don?¢â??¬â??¢t know whether the heart surgery has changed him or the passing of years has changed me, but I?¢â??¬â??¢m starting to like the guy. I guess he?¢â??¬â??¢s been a bit of a scoundrel, but some of our nation?¢â??¬â??¢s most lovable characters have been scoundrels. George W. Bush spoke warmly and graciously of Bill Clinton at a White House ceremony a couple of years ago, and Clinton has returned that warmth and grace. I believe he actually likes Bush. Think that doesn?¢â??¬â??¢t drive Liberals nuts?

So, cheer up, my fellow Conservatives. Bill Clinton is likely to be with us for a very long time. That?¢â??¬â??¢s not such a bad thing.

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Mr. Sajak is the host of "Wheel of Fortune" and

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