Almost five years after he left office, it seems like Bill Clinton is everywhere.
The former president, who has never shied from the limelight, can thank President Bush for some of his recent surge in visibility.
In a move that infuriated some of Bush’s conservative backers, the president appointed Clinton to join his father, another ex-president, in raising money for disaster victims. Bush also dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to attend the “Clinton Global Initiative” in New York two weeks ago.
And James Lee Witt, who headed FEMA under Clinton, huddled with Bush during the Hurricane Katrina crisis.
Beyond the new Bush bonds, Clinton is plenty active on his own. His foundation, based in the mainly black Harlem neighborhood of New York, is spending tens of millions of dollars to help AIDS sufferers in Africa, Asia and elsewhere.
Clinton’s global initiative _ with the modest goals of cutting poverty, reducing religious conflict, decreasing global warming and improving government around the world _ just brought in pledges of $1.8 billion at a conference that featured Rice, World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz and a galaxy of other U.S. and foreign leaders.
“All of us have an unprecedented amount of power to solve problems, save lives and help people see the future,” Clinton told hundreds of movers-and-shakers at the conference.
Looking trim and fit _ former aides say he weighs about 40 pounds less than his White House peak _ Clinton was on a recent cover of Parade magazine for an article about his recovery from open-heart surgery last fall. His wife, Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, is way ahead of the pack in early polling for the Democrats’ 2008 presidential nomination.
Once dubbed “the Comeback Kid” of political campaigns, Clinton, 59, is on a post-presidency roll.
“He’s really hitting his stride,” said Doug Sosnik, who was White House political director and held other senior positions under Clinton. “He’s gotten his book behind him, he’s paid off his legal bills, he’s moved through the transition from having been president. I think he’s found his voice as a former president.”
Some analysts compare Clinton’s activities with those of Jimmy Carter, the ex-president who received the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to promote human rights, push economic development and seek peaceful resolutions of international conflicts.
Carter and Clinton are both Democrats, and both were Southern governors before reaching the White House _ Carter in Georgia, Clinton in Arkansas. Carter, though, was never the political lightning rod that Clinton has been for years, especially since his 1998 impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. And unlike Hillary Clinton, Carter’s wife had no political ambitions once he left the White House.
Lucianne Goldberg, who helped bring the Clinton-Lewinsky affair to light, now expresses her views on a Web site, lucianne.com, which appeals to conservatives.
All of Clinton’s current activities, according to Goldberg, are aimed at getting his wife in the White House and regaining an office for himself in the West Wing.
“He’s positioning himself for the co-presidency,” she said. “He has an overweening ambition, as large as his wife’s. . . . When people see him doing something, they think of her. It’s almost as if she’s cloned herself. He’s Mr. Hillary.”
In her crowd of ardent right-wingers, Goldberg said, “the hatred of Hillary is almost palpable,” and her husband “has become almost a laughingstock.”
Jay Carson, a Clinton spokesman, rejected Goldberg’s claims.
“He’s committed to public service, and he’s saving thousands of lives around the world,” Carson said.
Clinton, Carson added, “is not in the political game anymore,” though he acknowledged that the former president would “probably do some campaigning” for Democratic candidates in next fall’s congressional elections.
As if he needed to ignite their ire more, Clinton angered many Bush supporters Sept. 18 when, on two Sunday talk shows, he questioned the president’s Iraq policy and sharply criticized his tax cuts and other economic measures.
Noting that the Chinese have named a new line of condoms after Clinton, Michael Reagan, a radio talk-show host and son of the late president, accused him of appalling ingratitude toward Bush after the president appointed him and his father to raise money for disaster relief.
“He cannot stop wanting to run this country _ and (the) world while he’s at it,” Reagan said. “The man’s overwhelming hunger for the spotlight marks everything he says and does.”
Peter Fenn, a prominent Democratic consultant in Washington, said that, if anything, many party activists feel that Clinton has gone too easy on Bush.
“Some of us would say he’s been a little too supportive of Bush, especially on Iraq,” Fenn said. “He’s not kibitzing from the sidelines. I don’t think he’s taking cheap shots.”