Bill Clinton


After President Obama finished his State of the Union address last night, a conservative friend of mine sent me this text message: “They always talk about Clinton moving to the center. Obama is moving far right!”

I don’t agree that Obama is moving far right, but as I responded to my friend, “I always thought Obama was more conservative than Nancy Pelosi allowed him to appear.”

“True, but this was stunning,” my friend wrote back. “American Exceptionalism? Reducing corporate taxes? Maybe this Reagan stuff is affecting him. Liberals must be pissed.”

He was right. Judging by the post-address commentary on MSNBC, some far-left liberals definitely were pissed. As a matter of fact, I had to change the channel to CNN after some of the MSNBC commentary started bordering on whining. (As usual, CNN had the best middle-ground coverage of a presidential speech.)

Here’s what I don’t understand: Obama obviously leans more to the left than the right, so why does he continue to get so much criticism from fellow Democrats? Why don’t the Democrats act like the Republicans and support their president?

I’m not saying that Obama — or any politician, for that matter — is above criticism, but the president has delivered on some significant liberal agenda items, including comprehensive healthcare reform and abolishment of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. How far left do the president’s critics really expect him to go?

It long has been apparent to me that Obama is a pragmatist. He understands the political reality of his situation. He knows he must compromise with Republicans in order to get more done — but his left-leaning critics don’t seem willing to accept this. If they don’t wise up, they won’t appreciate Obama’s presidency until he leaves the White House — and by then, they may not have anyone left in the Oval Office willing to listen to anything they want.

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It was a pretty good week for the Obama administration:

1) The U.S. unemployment rate fell in July for the first time in 15  months as employers cut “only” 247,000 jobs, compared to 467,000 job losses in June. The unemployment rate dropped from 9.5 percent in June to 9.4 percent in July — not a big change percentage-wise, but still a move in the right direction. Hopefully this is not an aberration, but a sign that the economy is starting to recover from one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression.

2) Former President Bill Clinton’s rescue mission to North Korea was successful in obtaining the release of two jailed American journalists. This is a good thing, no matter what John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, says.

3) Sonia Sotomayor was sworn in Saturday as the first Hispanic and third woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

4) Just one day after being only one of nine Republicans to vote to confirm Sotomayor as the newest Supreme Court justice, U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida resigned Friday. Martinez previously announced he wouldn’t run for re-election next year, but his early exit drops the current number of Republicans in the U.S. Senate to 39.

5) A top Taliban leader apparently was killed by a CIA missile strike in Pakistan this week. Three days later, his two most likely successors apparently killed each other at a meeting to determine the next commander of the Taliban in Pakistan.

George W. Bush leaves the Capitol via helicopter Tuesday.

George W. Bush leaves the Capitol via helicopter Tuesday.

Former President George W. Bush left Washington, D.C., and is now back in Texas.

And the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Tonight Bush addressed more than 20,000 supporters at a homecoming event held in his honor in Midland, Texas. Attendees reportedly included Bush’s chief political adviser and “brain,” Karl Rove, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and former adviser Karen Hughes.

“We are back in the state of Texas and we are here to stay,” Bush said.

Quick, somebody put a giant impenetrable dome over the Lone Star State to make sure he keeps his promise.

With that said, I have two compliments for Bush as he rides off into the sunset leaving quite a mess for our new president to clean up. First, I’m glad he didn’t issue a bunch of last-minute pardons like Bill Clinton did before he left office. That means former vice presidential aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby will not have his record expunged, and former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, media mogul Conrad Black and former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens still have to serve time for their crimes.

Secondly, I liked the gesture Bush made toward his successor, Barack Obama, before boarding the helicopter that flew the 43rd president to Texas. As Obama turned to shake Bush’s hand, Bush saluted Obama, the new commander-in-chief of our country. It was a brief but touching moment that made me smile – and I’m surprised I’ve heard nobody comment about it.

Sometimes Bush does the right thing. Too bad he didn’t do it more often. Maybe then our country wouldn’t be facing so many challenges as he leaves office.

I love this photo because of its historical significance:

The last time all living U.S. presidents met at the White House was Oct. 8, 1981, when then-President Ronald Reagan hosted his three immediate predecessors, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, before they went to a state funeral in Cairo for assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

The photo posted above was taken Wednesday in the Oval Office before the five men – from left, former President George H.W. Bush, President-elect Barack Obama, President George W. Bush and former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter – met privately for a 90-minute luncheon at the White House. The photo reminded me of the cover of Bob Woodward’s book, Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate, which features a photo of former presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. I believe the Shadow photo was taken at Nixon’s funeral in 1994.

“I can’t wait to begin to tell my side of the story and to address you guys and, most importantly, the people of Illinois. That’s who I’m dying to talk to.”

When I heard Blagojevich make that comment to reporters yesterday, my first thought was, You’re the governor, you can talk to the people of Illinois anytime you want.

Of course, I realize Blagojevich was “lawyering up” to avoid incriminating himself further while coming up with a defense against the vast corruption allegations he faces.

Nonetheless, Blagojevich may break his silence tomorrow, the 10th day since his arrest. I can’t wait to hear what excuse he came up with. A hint may have been dropped today by the governor’s lawyer, Ed Genson (who sounds eerily like Joe Lieberman, the independent U.S. senator from Connecticut), who claimed the federal wiretaps that recorded Blagojevich discussing pay-to-play schemes were obtained illegally.

I highly doubt U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and the FBI recorded Blagojevich illegally, but I suppose anything is possible when it comes to technicalities of the law as applied to the rich and powerful. “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” as former President Bill Clinton once said.

In any case, it is clear from the tapes that Blagojevich is in the wrong and deserves to be booted from office. What really ticks me off about him now is his steadfast refusal to resign and stop wasting taxpayer dollars. But obviously Blagojevich suddenly feels compelled to become a workaholic – probably so he can get paid to shred evidence and do some last-minute scheming. It wouldn’t surprise me if he is vigorously working on a plea agreement proposal, something outrageous like he will resign if charges aren’t brought against him. Blagojevich is probably just crazy enough to try something like that.

Today Blagojevich reportedly reviewed the clemency petitions of about 60 convicted felons. It probably is a priority for him to make sure he hands out “get out of jail free” cards to everyone whom he promised them, so nobody crooked comes after him with a pair of brass knuckles – or worse – after he inevitably leaves office.

As an Illinois resident, I find it interesting to watch two different types of coverage of Blagogate, local and national. Local coverage on Chicago television stations focuses on a wider range of angles than national coverage on the cable news networks, which seems more focused on whether President-elect Barack Obama had any knowledge of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s plan to award Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. It’s almost as if the national newspeople are only concerned with potentially finding some dirty Obama laundry.

As an out-of-work reporter, I certainly understand where the national newsies are coming from with their focus on the Obama angle of this scandal. But speaking strictly as an interested citizen whose home state got screwed by its governor (again), I wish all the commentators would stop insinuating that Blagogate somehow makes Obama dirty just because he is from Chicago. It isn’t as if Obama has a track record of shady behavior. Besides, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, a very thorough investigator, said Tuesday that no allegations of wrongdoing have been made against Obama, and I can’t recall any instance of Fitzgerald being offbase about anything like this in the past.

David Gergen, who served as a White House adviser to four presidents (Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton) and possesses a keen political mind, seems to believe this too.

“He was an honest man who came out of a corrupt system,” Gergen said Wednesday on Anderson Cooper 360.

I understand we live in a cynical society that tends to tear people down rather than build them up. But in the case of Obama, I hope we can continue to believe in him, for even though our country needs a lot more than hope right now, it is important to be able to hope and believe our next president is trustworthy and capable of righting the good ship America.

As I listened today to the latest news about President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team vetting Hillary and Bill Clinton to determine whether Hillary should become secretary of state, an interesting theory popped into my head. What if Obama is just vetting the Clintons so he knows as much as possible about them without a true intention of offering the job to Hillary? The Clintons aren’t fond of Obama after he defeated Hillary in the Democratic primary, so perhaps Obama is gathering as much information about them as possible (including what controversial donors gave money to Bill Clinton’s foundation) to keep in his back pocket in case they try to backstab him in some way. Perhaps Obama really intends to offer the secretary of state post to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has more foreign policy experience than Hillary and likely has a favor coming his way after endorsing Obama during the primary race.

If my theory proves true, wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants to the Clintons? After all the negative things she said about Obama during the primary race, Hillary probably doesn’t deserve a position in his administration anyway. It isn’t as if she won’t continue to rack up seniority in the Senate if she stays there, where she can work with Sen. Ted Kennedy on implementing universal health care, which has long been one of Hillary’s pet projects.

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