In my last article on Bill Clinton (see link), I ended by touching on how the former President built a team of people around him to implement the world he imagined.
Now, it is important to give credit where credit is due. I believe Bill Clinton was very intelligent. He was a Rhodes scholar, studied at Oxford and Yale, convinced a state to re-elect him after they had kicked him out of office, became President, and stayed in office despite being impeached (yeah. that happened.) before leaving office to continue as a diplomat, philanthropist and best-selling author. Yeah. That also happened.
But his greatest achievement, I feel, comes back to the team he assembled around him.
Hilary Clinton – while including Hilary on this list may seem an “easy” choice since they were married, I think history will afford a shining light for her. Hilary’s profile before Bill won any election was impressive for a woman growing up in the seventies, and remains impressive to this day on its own merit apart from him. She studied law at Yale before helping impeach Nixon from office, has been a strong advocate for women’s rights, literacy and education, and went on to teach law and serve as legal counsel to Wal-Mart. Since leaving the White House with Bill, she ran for and was elected to the Senate (where even the strongest Republicans found common ground with her), almost won the Democratic nomination for president (without question, the closest a woman has ever come), and quickly became an exemplary Sect. of State under (current) Pres. Obama.
Al Gore – a strong advocate for putting the Internet in high schools (and thus pioneering the Internet as an educational resource), Gore went on to write several essays and books and (after narrowly losing the presidency to George Bush in ’00) host the most well-known public speaking tour of a former VP ever. Today, Gore remains “the” voice on global warming and, building on his previous experience with forwarding technology, sits on the board of Apple and Google.
George Stephanopolous – senior speechwriter during the election, Stephanopolous was ceremonially “fired” from his post in the Clinton cabinet after he tried to insulate Pres. Clinton from other members of staff and the FOBs. “The Little Greek” went on to write a tell-all book, lecture on communications (including his mistake of “hiding” Bill from the public) and today is a senior correspondant for ABC News. During the ’08 election, having come full circle, Stephanopolous is an outspoken advocate for the Clinton Foundation and chief political correspondant for ABC Studios. It is believed that the character of Henry in “Primary Colors” is based off of Stephanopolous.
James Carville – “The Mouth from the South” is a firebrand political commentator, lecturer and author. He now resides in New Orleans with his (Republican) wife. Together, they are proving that radically different ideologies can coexist harmoniously. As an aside, Carville has made a film career out of cameos (including frat-boy comedy “Old School”). During the Clinton presidency, Carville was instrumental in rallying the Democrats, writing key speeches, and advising the president on domestic policy.
Madeleine Albright – It must be noted that the position of Sect. of State is a “make it or break it” position. In the last seven decades, only three are noteworthy – (current) Hilary Clinton, Henry Kissinger, and Madeleine Albright. Raised by immigrants who survived the Holocaust, Albright was one of the most important powerhouses in securing peace in Northern Ireland, brokering relations with the Middle East, the Balkans, navigating the new regime of Russia after the death of Boris Yeltsin into the hands of Vladimir Putin and promoting women’s rights worldwide. After leaving her post, Albright went on to write one of the greatest books on religion, diplomacy and foreign relations, “The Mighty and the Almighty.” On a personal note, I think the book is one of the 100 greatest books of the last 100 years.
Janet Reno – While many made fun of Reno’s “manliness,” her position in the Clinton Administration showed that women could play “in a man’s world.” No Atrny. Gen. had to deal with the rise of cults like Reno did. From “Branch Davidian” in Waco to “Heaven’s Gate” outside of Los Angeles, Reno had to navigate eccentric faith like no other.
Tony Blair – the most popular Prime Minister since… well… his predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, Blair ushered in “Cool Britannia” and was instrumental in navigating his country (and the world) through several heartbreaks, from the death of Princess Diana to the “fall” of the Clinton presidency. Blair, every biographer will agree, reminded the world that friendship and forgiveness are the things everyone needs in their most critical hour. After Clinton left office, Blair renewed his friendship with America through Pres. Bush (43) and stood up against terrorism, evil everywhere, even when it became “Uncool.”
Kofi Annan – Sect. Gen. of the United Nations during Clinton’s administration, Annan oversaw the “modernization” of the global institution through significant reform. Though his leadership would ultimately end sourly, Annan was outspoken on numerous global issues – including the civil war in Syria, world health and education, and the AIDS/HIV pandemic.
Nelson Mandela – The most public face of the end of apartheid in Africa. An outspoken (and jailed) voice for dignity, respect, and honor between races, Mandela’s legacy will always be that of a man who moved the world forward towards reconciliation in the midst of age-old hatred. The two men found solidarity in the pursuit of equal rights, as Clinton was raised in divided Arkansas during the Civil Rights Era.
Boris Yeltsin – the former Russian president who, while comical in his drunkenness, still wanted to make his country better. I always felt like Yeltsin was a bit of a boob – the “drunken uncle” who wanted good things for his family, but just couldn’t get there. That Clinton found friendship with Yeltsin and forged a friendship after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, Berlin Wall, and resurrection of the “bear” market is testimony to the vision and forward-thinking Clinton possessed. Instead of letting Russia hang itself, he found an inroad with a “boob” and opened the East back up for trade and weapons negotiations. Yeltsin, via Clinton, was instrumental in building the necessary bridges to “help” in Kosovo once Putin took power and show that Russia still possessed some degree of morality and justice.
Hollywood – a virtual “Who’s Who” too long for me to list here and do justice do. Suffice to say, Clinton was (and remains) a friend of the arts (see evidence here).
The 3,000+ people he names in his autobiography – The “Friends of Bill” (see the 38pgs of reference notes in the back of “My Life” for the most recognizable) are a testimony to the fact that Clinton never forgot helped him get where he is. While many might make a joke about this coterie, isn’t it impressive that they take up so much of “his” life?
Returning to my original idea from the first part of this post, I feel it important that we understand the collective weight each of the “Team Clinton” members brought to the table. As intelligent as Bill may be, his crowning genius was that he was able to assemble a team of equally intelligent and capable minds and hearts around him.
It is no secret that I have always want to “build” a team like this. At times, this has been misunderstood (“I’m not good enough for your cool club ./!/? ”) – a painful reality. And while, given the nature and context of an article like this, it would be easy to surmise that I was “raised” under Clinton and adopted his aspirations via osmosis or acculturation, this would be as accurate as it would be untrue. From an early age (that is, while Reagan was still President) I was the kid on the playground who mediated, who tried to bring people together, who was the first to make reconciliation if I had done wrong and apologize first even if I did not feel I was the offending party. It is a trait that has, to greater and lesser extent, caused some degree of friction for me. On my better days, people take advantage of me: “I thought you were a leader. We trusted you. Even if we are wrong, we still expect you to do the right thing.” On my weaker days, I become an easy target: “I thought you were a team player. We trusted you. Even if we are wrong, we still expect you to do the right thing.” Still, this is part of the person I have become – the one who tries (at times desperately) to “assemble” a team and secure a better future. So it was that I began paying attention to what Clinton was doing as he took office even as my father yelled at television sets about how “stupid” Clinton (and his team) were, how “evil” they were, and how they were “destroying America.” Between all the lines and lies, I saw in Clinton a flawed man who was trying to make something better and did not want to do it alone.
It is telling, I feel, that during the scandal the Clintons endured with Monica Lewinsky, that Clinton confessed his moral lapse to feeling “so alone” and that Chelsea, Bill and Hilary’s daughter, “linked” them together again. Like father, like daughter – always uniting what was broken.
On my recent visit to the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, this was the most entertaining and awe-inspiring part of the tour – the team that Clinton had assembled around him. To be perfectly candid, it made me sad as I reflected on the ways in which I had (and have) become selfish, ignored others, “broken ranks” with others of equal (or greater) genius who desire to make the world better. Inspirational? Of course. But also cause for pause, because we will either live together or die alone.
Here’s the funny thing: I don’t know where I got all my crazy ideas about teamwork and a better world. Maybe it was comic books, maybe I was just wired differently. But this has always been “part” of who I am as far as I can remember. And while you could attribute this to any number of things, I ground it in the fact that my parents encouraged me to read from an early age, exposed me to different cultures, took my to art galleries and played classical music.
For some, I know, this may sound as though I am an elitist and to be sure I would agree with you, were it not for the decades of hardship I endured and my reliance on “teamwork” and “hope” to get me through those years. I needed to believe in something better, I needed to believe in something beautiful, and I needed to believe in something greater than myself and my circumstance. My “reading” turned to scriptures at an early age. I can remember flipping through picture books about world religions when I was six, fascinated by the reclining Buddha, by the beauty of Islam, and the Kingdom of God that Jesus talked about. I was enraptured by this united concept of “Heaven” as a place where we could come together, where loved ones and enemies could crush a cup of wine together and celebrate the peace that had finally come, our “shared sharing” as it were.
Where my father raged against the system, where he cried foul to the expanse of equal rights and opportunities for women, minorities and homosexuals, where he foamed at the mouth against Team Clinton’s combined effort to make the world a better place? I quietly disagreed, finding that scripture – all scripture – promoted the very things that Clinton was putting in place. Indeed, it seems upon reflection that almost every hymn I sang as a boy lamented our division and looked forward to a time when all would be one, would be at peace, and when we could stand against injustice and rejoice in hope.