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Thursday, June 24, 2004

Best of the Web Today
James Taranto's Best of the Web Today at has a nice surprise. It's a chapter from the new book, "Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House" (edited by James Taranto and Leonard Leo), available at the OpinionJournal Bookstore.

The chapter is written by noted historian Paul Johnson and, man, is it good. His subject is Bill Clinton. Would that the whole book were written by Mr. Johnson, but it's not. (There are, however, other fine authors contributing to the book - William Bennett, Richard Brookhiser, Lynne Cheney, Brendan Miniter, Fred Barnes, John McCain, Theodore B. Olson, Max Boot, Robert Bork, Edwin Meese III, Peggy Noonan, Kenneth Starr, Paul Gigot, Robert Bartley, Victor Davis Hanson, and others.) Anyway, Paul Johnson's contribution is wonderful. He begins,
Presenting a just estimate of the Clinton presidency will pose perhaps insoluble problems to historians. The printed record of his doings, misdoings, and omissions is unarguably deplorable from start to finish. Yet he was reelected without difficulty, and some would argue that, had it been constitutionally possible for him to run for a third term, he would have been elected again. It is a fact that historians will have to take into account, for it is central to the success he enjoyed that William Jefferson Clinton was a formidable personality, at least in one sense: Face-to-face, it was almost impossible to dislike him. Indeed it was difficult not to like him very much. As Tony Blair put it to me: "I found I had to like him, despite all the evidence."
And he goes on, giving Clinton credit for nothing except being Bill Clinton. In fact, one of his greatest strengths as a President was his lack of activity.
If Clinton had been a continent man, and so with time to be an activist president, the consequences would almost certainly have been disastrous for the American economy. As it was, with the president busy elsewhere, the nation thrived mightily, as always when the White House does nothing.
In the end, I guess we're fortunate that he did so little and yet unfortunate that he was so successful at it.

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