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The Clinton Renaissance®

From The Scrapbook

Feb 27, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 23 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Reading Andrew Ferguson’s splendid essay this week on Bill Clinton (see page 20), The Scrapbook was especially beguiled by his detailed description of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), that world-class gathering of seminal minds and can-do spirits, dedicated to generating bold ideas and innovative solutions. Between the gory details of the CGI gabfests, however, and the blasts from the past (Susan McDougal, Sidney Blumenthal, Webster Hubbell) of the Clinton era, The Scrapbook was reminded of the baby boom gabfest that started it all: Renaissance Weekend. 

Photo of The Clintons biking at the 1993 Renaissance Weekend®

The Clintons at the 1993 Renaissance Weekend®

AP / Mark Lennihan

Whatever happened to Renaissance Weekend? Well, The Scrapbook is pleased to report that, even in the absence of Bill and Hillary Clinton, it still thrives​—​although it is no longer held just in Charleston, South Carolina, but has become a kind of moveable feast, convening over holiday weekends in places like Santa Monica, Aspen, and Monterey. And its mission is just as amorphous as ever: “To build bridges among innovative leaders with exceptionally diverse perspectives.” 

The phrase “Renaissance Weekend” by the way, is now copyrighted, and self-defined as “inter-generational, invitation-only retreats for preeminent authorities, emerging leaders, and their families”​—​which, we assume, is just a lot of fancy talk to ensure that The Scrapbook continues to be excluded. 

Which is not only unfair, but unjust​—​perhaps even shortsighted. For while The Scrapbook may be neither a preeminent authority nor an emerging leader, it is just as concerned as anyone about the crisis of confidence, the breakdown of civility, the absence of consensus, the rise of global challenges, the puncturing of myths, the hunger for solutions, the building of networks, and the vital necessity to think outside the box. 

For years The Scrapbook has successfully challenged conventional wisdom, dared to speak truth to power, walked the walk, grappled with ideas, reached out to adversaries, hit the reset button, promoted diversity, encouraged innovation, personified the entrepreneurial spirit, asked the tough questions, and identified leaders who can raise The Scrapbook to the next level.

Which makes our exclusion from Renaissance Weekend all the more poignant. For if you visit the website you find an endless scroll of portraits of past and present participants: David Gergen, Arianna Huffington, Brian Williams, Valerie Plame Wilson, Gail Sheehy, Nicholas Kristof, Diane Sawyer, even the late Art Buchwald. It’s as if Renaissance Weekend were a scrap of flypaper, attracting leaders from all walks of Georgetown and Manhattan​—​the whole gamut from politics to journalism, and back​—​all with global perspectives and bold strategies.

Is there no place in all these fruitful exchanges for The Scrapbook, no challenge that The Scrapbook hasn’t undertaken, no mindset that The Scrapbook hasn’t engaged, no global perspective that The Scrapbook hasn’t recognized? Apparently not​—​which is why The Scrapbook now shifts its attention to the Aspen Ideas Festival, the joint venture of the Atlantic and the Aspen Institute​—​a sort of Renaissance Weekend for the 21st century, where they “feel strongly that knowledge in and of itself has tremendous value [and] armed with understanding and perspectives, the next step just might be to engage where passions intersect with opportunity [and] the value of ideas is realized when society acts.” It’s as if The Scrapbook were looking in the mirror!

Deep Throat Revisited

Some decades ago it became an article of faith among opinion makers that Watergate was the Platonic ideal of American political scandal. Nowadays, Obama’s attorney general can oversee the handoff of a few thousand guns to Mexican criminal gangs and spend the next year stonewalling congressional investigators and the family of a dead border patrol agent, and the media collectively yawns into the abyss. But if you so much as question the narrative according to which the republic was saved from oblivion by the unimpeachable courage of a brave anonymous source who vouchsafed to heroic news reporters details of the conspiracy behind an inept office burglary—well, prepare to catch hell. 

While it’s hard to feel sorry for Tricky Dick or lament his fate, it’s also hard not to be appalled by the propagation of a mythos that needlessly venerates anti-Nixon crusaders and has turned the American media into an assemblage of grandstanders. 

One of the linchpins of this absurd narrative was Deep Throat. For -decades it was assumed that this shadowy figure who handed the story to the Washington Post’s Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman—sorry, to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein—was essentially a public-spirited do-gooder. Of course, things are different now that we finally know Deep Throat was Mark Felt, a high-ranking FBI official. 

Nearly 40 years later, historical investigations are just starting to shed more light on Felt. To that end, the Miami Herald’s Glenn Garvin surveys the new book Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat by veteran historian and author Max Holland. It turns out that the answer to the titular question is that Felt was a disgruntled bureaucrat. According to Garvin:

The real story is “considerably messier and less than a fairy tale,” Holland writes in Leak. Through interviews, declassified documents and Nixon’s White House tapes, he demonstrates convincingly that Felt’s objectives were covetous rather than civic: He desperately wanted to be director of the FBI.

Less than a month before the Watergate break-in, the top FBI job had come open for the first time in 37 years with the death of J. Edgar Hoover. Enraged that he hadn’t gotten the job, Felt saw Watergate as an opportunity to shatter the career of the man who did, Nixon’s friend L. Patrick Gray.

The book also reveals that in his position at the FBI, Felt was something of a dirty trickster himself, having personally overseen burglaries and “black-bag jobs” against antiwar groups. And considering all the other questionable things Hoover’s FBI was up to, Garvin notes that it’s telling how selective Felt was in his leaking. He didn’t feel the need to go public, for instance, with the fact that the FBI had run wiretaps on Martin -Luther King Jr. and shared the tapes with President Kennedy.  

None of this excuses what Nixon and his crew were doing. But the revelations about Felt also highlight a neglected truism of political scandals: While some in Washington, D.C., are less corrupt than others, almost no one is innocent.

Tea Party Update

Good news for the Tea Party! Sam Tanenhaus surveys the movement in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, under the headline “Will the Tea Get Cold?”  Tanenhaus’s opus The Death of Conservatism was published on September 1, 2009. And 14 months later, on Election Day 2010, we saw how that turned out. 

So we think we know why the NYRB editors hedged their bets with that question mark in the headline. Given Tanenhaus’s record as a contrarian indicator, we can confidently predict that, come fall, the kettle will be once again on the boil.

Schiavo Revisionism

Our occasional contributor Wesley J. Smith wrote a column last week for the Daily Caller, calling attention to the “politically pernicious” revisionism about the Terri Schiavo case that is likely to increase if Rick Santorum remains atop the GOP field:

Now that Rick Santorum has emerged as a credible candidate for the Republican nomination for president, some in the media and the Democratic Party are weaving a blatantly false narrative about the passage of the 2005 federal law intervening in the Terri Schiavo case. Supposedly, the alleged religious fanatic Rick Santorum—he wants to outlaw contraception, don’t you know!—along with Republican theocratic coconspirators, overcame courageous Democrats’ objections to pass a law interfering with a husband’s loving quest to give his wife the merciful release. But that isn’t even close to what happened seven years ago. In actuality, the Schiavo law was one of the most bipartisan laws passed during the entire Bush presidency.

How bipartisan? As Smith documents, it needed two-thirds support in the House, and got it, with the Democratic caucus splitting evenly. Any one Democrat could have stopped it in the Senate, where it passed without objection in an unrecorded vote. But none said no: “Not newly seated Senator Barack Obama. Not Senator Hillary Clinton. [Not] any other Democrat, including such liberal icons as Tom Harkin, Harry Reid, Patrick Leahy and Barbara Boxer.” After polls showed that Congress’s intervention in the right-to-die case was deeply unpopular, Obama said his having gone along with it “was a mistake.” Smith concludes: “Somehow, I think that if the polls had gone the other way, Obama would have been taking bows, pointing proudly to how he had heeded the urging of the 29 national disability rights organizations that had filed amicus briefs or lobbied Congress on behalf of saving Schiavo’s life.”

Sentences We Didn’t Finish

"When you look at the numbers, it’s stunning how little this Republican primary electorate resembles the rest of the United States.  They are much closer to the population of 1890 than of 2012. Given the level of media attention, we know an election of great significance is happening on the Republican side. But it’s occurring in a different place, guided by talk-radio extremists and religious zealots .  .  . ” (Timothy Egan, New York Times,  February 16).

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