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Clinton Praises Bush, Notes Brain Works Different

Tuesday, 19 September 2006 12:00 AM

In some of his most candid comments since leaving the White House, former President Bill Clinton offered surprising praise for the man who replaced him — and said President Bush is right for staying the course in Iraq.

"I keep reading that Bush is incurious, but when he talks to me he asks a lot of questions," Clinton said in the wide-ranging profile penned by writer David Remnick in the Sept. 18 edition of The New Yorker magazine.

Clinton told Remnick he was surprised that Bush is often criticized as incurious and intellectually shallow. He quickly explained that people just misinterpret both Bush and his dad, the former president, because their brains work differently than most people.

"So I can't give him a bad grade on curiosity. I think both he and his father, because they have peculiar speech patterns, have been underestimated in terms of their intellectual capacity. You know, the way they speak and all, it could be, it could just relate to the way the synapses work in their brains."

On the heated matter of Iraq and U.S. involvement there, Clinton seemed supportive of the current policy. He told Remnick: "Whether you were for or against the original action, it would be better if it did not end in calamity and chaos, mass killing within Iraq, more terrorist bases there.

"And I think you have to say that this is a national security issue — and I say that because I don't think we should have done it until after the U.N. inspections were over, until we had secured Afghanistan, and we had a consensus in the world community. I never thought Saddam [Hussein] presented any kind of a terrorist threat.

"Seventy percent of those people did vote. They voted to set up this government. And most of them, if left to their own devices, without the people with the guns in the middle, would find some way to make some sort of decent go of it."

Clinton also expressed backhanded admiration for Bush's straightforwardness in presenting his agenda, which Clinton argues is one of the most conservative to emanate from a Republican-controlled White House.

"I also think that he was genuinely more conservative on questions like concentrations of wealth and power, weakening of environmental and health regulations — things of that kind — than any president we've had in a very, very long time," Clinton said.

"Even more conservative than Reagan, probably, and way to the right of his father and Nixon and Eisenhower. But the thing that bothers me about having an ideology as opposed to a philosophy is that, if you have an ideology, then the outcome is dictated before the facts are in, before the arguments are heard. And that, I think, can cause problems."

But Clinton said that Bush, despite employing the slogan "compassionate conservatism," never hid his radical-right agenda. "He said, ‘Vote for me, and I'll give you judges like Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia,' and that's exactly what he did."

In the same vein, Clinton seemed angered with the way the White House, even as Iraq verged on civil war, remained on the rhetorical and ideological offensive.

"I'm sick of Karl Rove's bulls***," Clinton declared. But Remnick writes: "And yet there was a trace of admiration in the remark, a veteran pol's regard for the way his rival had packaged a radical brand of American conservatism as ‘compassionate conservatism' and kept on pushing it long after its sell-by date had passed."

Said Clinton: "Nixon was a communist compared to this crowd."

Clinton sees that same determination to prevail in himself, and believes that's what set him apart from Democratic losers Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry.

"We've got to be in the winning business, because without winning it's the other guy, and the other guy's ideas, that prevail."

Evidently, the only Democrat on the scene Clinton feels is ready for the big — and victorious — battle is the same person who will attract the harshest attacks — Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Remnick revealed the take on a Hillary candidacy by a Clinton insider: "Two things could still hold her back. One would be a straightforward political calculation that she would probably lose. In the race for the nomination she could falter because of a powerful anti-war sentiment in the Democratic Party base, or she could get tripped up by John Edwards in Iowa or face a surprise candidate, like Al Gore.

"A series of early losses might undercut her advantages in money, name recognition, and organization. Many Democrats have grown dismayed with her positions on everything from the war to flag burning. If Hillary Clinton advances to the general election, she may not be able to overcome her own negatives or a candidate like John McCain."

Clinton told Remnick: "I said this a thousand times, I'll say it again. I don't know if she can win if she runs. I do believe that if she were elected she would be magnificent. She is an exceptionally able person who has been subject to a level of scrutiny and criticism that I think is almost amazing, and has not gotten half the credit she deserves for what she's done. But she has risen against all odds.

"And like me she believes in working with Republicans when she can, and disagreeing with them when she needs to."

He added: "It would really be crazy if the anti-war element of our party thought that the most important thing to do was beat up on the Democrats, and gave the Republicans a free ride."

Discussing potential GOP presidential candidate John McCain, Remnick notes, Clinton "made sure to say how funny and decent he is, and how heroic he was in Vietnam, but soon he was pointing out McCain's ‘far-right' bona fides, his being ‘right there with Bush' on preemptive war and ‘loads' of right-wing domestic policies."

As for his current state of mind, Clinton told The New Yorker: "You can sit there and feel sorry that you're not president anymore, or you can find some way to use what you know, and who you know, and what you know about how to do things, and go out there and do all the good you can.

"The one thing I made a very determined decision about, even before I got sick [with heart disease in 2004] was that I would not leave the White House and spend the rest of my life wishing I were still president."

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In some of his most candid comments since leaving the White House, former President Bill Clinton offered surprising praise for the man who replaced him - and said President Bush is right for staying the course in Iraq. "I keep reading that Bush is incurious, but when he...
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Tuesday, 19 September 2006 12:00 AM
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