The Magazine

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. 

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