As Bill Clinton made the rounds of the news and TV talk shows in the past couple of weeks, promoting his Global Initiative, what most impressed me as I watched him is what a remarkable politician he is. And I’m not talking about his politics, which, to some, is hardly better than Bush’s. I’m not talking about his policy, but his ability to be politic. When it comes to politicking, Bill Clinton, the son of a traveling salesman, is a natural, and George Bush, the scion of a wealthy oligarch, is glaringly unnatural. Clinton, more simply put, is more comfortable in his own skin. He is a President wearing it well, rather than an emperor wearing nothing at all.

Just watch him as he enters a room. He strides confidently. When Bush enters a room, it is with the affected John Wayne swagger that Hugo Chavez so delicately commented on, his arms nearly akimbo, as if he were making room for an invisible gun belt, the hallmark of a false or overblown confidence.

When an interviewer asks Clinton a difficult question, Clinton pauses and thinks about it before answering. When Bush is asked a difficult question, he shoots from the hip of his invisible gun belt, sometimes stuttering and stammering his unformed thoughts.

When Clinton speaks, his delivery is multi-vocal, and his style is multi-faceted. His tone and diction are often colloquial, without being familiar or casual. He offers anecdotes, analogies, digressions, divergences. He sometimes circles around a point but he does, eventually, arrive at it. The content of his speech is generally measured, sometimes too measured for my taste. He appeals to logic without appearing overly intellectual, he makes difficult issues accessible without appearing condescending, and he praises without seeming to flatter. He evokes an air of sincerity even when you know he is lying.

When Bush speaks, he often resorts to clichés, slogans, pat phrases, and favorite words (think of “hard work,” “resolve,” and “stay the course”). His style and delivery is often stilted, and one gets the impression that, when pausing, he is scanning an empty database. He seems to not have the erudition or, sometimes, even the bare facts needed to elaborate on a given point. One wonders if he has read his briefings. And, when he does succeed in arriving at a point, he visibly struggles along the way. This might not be so much due to a difference in intelligence, either. Some have argued that Bush is fairly bright and have attributed his inarticulateness and malapropism-peppered speech to dyslexia. Personally, I think that this is an insult to dyslexics.

Sometimes the man seems inept at any form of self-expression. His facial expression is often not in sync with his words. He smirks at members of the Washington press corps when his words suggest playful banter. He sometimes smiles or leers when discussing matters of great seriousness. He looks bewildered when presenting facts. He seems to be reading from the cue cards.

And what about expressing anger? I would not have wanted to be sitting across from Bill Clinton when he railed at Fox News. Chris Wallace appeared to be almost shrinking in his seat, curling up like a besieged hedgehog. Appropriate anger or inappropriate anger, I don’t know. I suppose that’s debatable. But at least Clinton’s response seemed genuine and his affect seemed appropriate. Dare I say it—his anger was almost “manly,” almost Schwarzeneggerian. When Bush gets angry, as he did at last week’s press conference, he “bleats, bullies, and whines,” as Keith Olbermann aptly put it. He is the truculent preppie, the Little Lord Fauntleroy, the kid in school that you just wanted to smack.

Clinton was never far enough to the left for me, and he cajoled and compromised his way through too many important issues. He made a lot of bad decisions, in my opinion, and many mistakes. But at least he was “Presidential,” damn it. At least you knew that he was steering the ship of state rather than running it aground.


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