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Winner’s run

BY TOM PLATE / 28 October 2007

WONDERED a friend of mine in Hong Kong recently: "Why can't you Americans just have elected Bill Clinton for life? You were doing so much better back then."

I started to explain — in dreary professorial manner, probably — that our US political system doesn't allow us to install 'soft but brilliant authoritarians for near-life" (Singapore model: Lee Kuan Yew — Prime Minister 1959-1990) or to continually re-elect parliamentary authoritarians (British model: Margaret Thatcher, PM 1979-1990). Etc., etc....

But my recital of the basic facts of US Government 101 dribbled off into irrelevancy with the realisation that the Bill Clinton Empire might well wind up with a total of 16 years in power. This then would amount to a longer accumulated run than Thatcher's, (the longest running British prime minister in the 20th century), though not as long a spree as Lee's, (who for all we know might still be discreetly pulling key strings even in the mid-octogenarian phrase of his life.)

The visage of a Clinton Empire comes into focus anew due to two recent events — one serious and one sort of hilarious.

The serious one was the awarding of the prestigious Peace Prize by the Nobel Committee to former US Vice-President Al Gore — and to The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as the pair of joint winners. Long speculated, it has now actually happened. The American politician who won the most popular votes in the shady 2,000 election that was decided by ballot-box shenanigans in Florida and affirmed by irregular intellectual shenanigans at the supreme court now joins Jimmy Carter in the exclusive Nobel Peace Prize club for former top US politicians.

Gore, said the committee in Oslo, is "probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted" to combat climate change. He is also probably the sole individual of the Democratic sort who can derail the Hillary Express to nomination for the presidency next year.

Already the American commentariat — as the bloviating media class is termed here — is in over-drive speculation about (a) whether the Nobel Norwegians are trying to influence the American presidential election-process, (b) whether or not the former Vice-President will throw down the gauntlet and run up the hill to challenge Mount Hillary, and/or (c) whether the wife of the 42nd US president will trip on her three-inch pumps and fall flat on her former First Lady face.

The topic of First Ladies leads us to the second event — the funny one. It's the cover of "New York" Magazine, the laser-sharp Manhattan weekly that's not afraid to punch the lights out of anyone.

The cover a couple of weeks ago was a real winner. The cover line read: BILL CLINTON, FIRST LADY: How a Clinton II White House Might Work, and the cover picture is of Slick Willie himself in a brunette wig.

Former President Clinton may still inspire ugly imprecations from conservatives appalled by the very notion of him, but he elicits from a larger number of Americans a measure of nostalgia for a time in America when things seemed to be humming along in a happier, more Clintonesque way.

Better to be lucky than good? The eight years of Clinton are looking more and more like a winner's run than the recent eight years of George W Bush. And so the prospect of Bill back in the White House as "First Lady," as it were, fills a lot of people not with dread but with hope for a return to normality, to a sounder economy, and to the termination of a brutal and unnecessary war so very far away from the continental US.

Remember: When Gore made his run for the White House seven years ago, he put as much distance between himself and boss Bill as possible. It was sort of embarrassing, actually, and in retrospect it was probably also very dumb.

Hillary Clinton is not going to be able to Gore the other Clinton — that distancing thing — even if she wanted to, unless, of course, she divorces the ex-president and reverts to Rodham. But a divorced female as a White House prospect would probably be much less appealing to American voters than a married one.

In the end, Hillary is stuck with Bill and this probably means two things. First, it means that the question of who will be her running mate is less important than ever; her real running mate with be her real mate.

Second, it means that, unless Senator Clinton messes up big time, she has a very good chance of taking the Clinton Empire at least through year 12 of Oval Office power.

But if she does stumble, Gore will get drafted, whether he wants the throne or not. If he runs, he won't have Bill Clinton with him, yet again. And thus he will probably lose — yet again.

So the answer to my friend in Hong Kong is: My guess is that the Americans are in fact about to elect Clinton again... even if the best man is Gore. Stay tuned.

Prof. Tom Plate, a full-time adjunct professor of communication and policy studies, is a board member of the Burkle Center on International Relations at UCLA. His most recent book is Confessions of an American Media Man

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