Every politician knows to kiss a baby, but most avoid holding one for very long to escape blame for the inevitable burst of tears. Last Wednesday, after the President graciously accepted the hand-off of Representative Gregory Meeks' rambunctious one-year-old, instantly captivating her with a hybrid game of patty-cake and applause on cue, he seamlessly delivered the rationale for continuing what he had started in near perfect political, historical and emotional pitch. "It takes a long time to turn a country around," he said, after ticking off the achievements of his Administration, and noted, "This is the chance of a lifetime to build the future of our dreams for our children."
Too bad the venue was a dreary hotel conference room in lower Manhattan, preaching to the saved, and not a battleground state, appealing to the undecided. Too bad Al Gore has put his party's most potent weapon in a lockbox. Too bad for Democrats there's a 22nd Amendment that keeps Clinton from running again. In a speech after the debates, Clinton gave a far more lucid rebuttal than Gore--and without the sighing. His job-approval rating surpasses Ronald Reagan's in his final days.
At the tail end of a second term, most Presidents are old or otherwise spent. Clinton thinks he's neither. Sadder for facing the wages of his sin and wiser for having faced down four Congresses, seven budgets and one impeachment, Clinton commands, even from his detractors, a grudging respect. In the past few weeks, the Vice President's reluctance to use this rich resource has risen to a public drama. But Hillary's embrace of her husband down the stretch may put her in the record books: the first First Lady to abdicate the White House to win a Senate seat from a state she had previously only visited as a tourist. Meanwhile, Gore, who won't share a stage with Clinton, finds himself in a dead heat for an office he should take in a walk. The couples were together for the first time since the Democratic Convention, attending the funeral of Governor Mel Carnahan. There were the obligatory air kisses and handshakes, followed by awkward efforts to get away from one another as fast as possible.
The relationship has never recovered from impeachment. Peter Baker reports in his book The Breach how former deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes approached several Democratic Party leaders about urging the President to resign. Gore's resistance to such feelers may have saved the country from an even greater trauma, but it deprived him of sailing into the election as an incumbent. And it left him susceptible to attack, as if Monica had delivered that pizza to him.
It's an upside-down world when your Vice President takes your marital infidelity more personally than your wife does. Friends say the Gores were dumbstruck by Clinton's reckless dalliance. Hillary's long-standing bargain with her husband might not have sanctioned extramarital affairs, but their life together taught her how to survive them. Tipper, who danced so merrily with Hillary at the '92 convention, took to mumbling that Monica was younger than her own daughter and virtually vanished from the scene.