'The president called to say goodbye, again'

After long nostalgia tour, Clinton bids America adieu for last time - we think.

Call it the long goodbye.

For weeks - if not an entire year - President Clinton has been saying goodbye to Americans. He's done it in a final round of proud policy speeches.

He's said it in a nostalgic farewell tour of favorite states. He's repeated it in a series of candid media interviews. And he did it for the last time - we think - on prime time last night.

It's not like other presidents haven't given a final address to the nation, or granted parting interviews, or taken time to remind the nation of their legacy.

But, true to form, the gadabout Clinton has done all this and more, including having the cabinet, senior staff, and members of Congress up to Camp David for parting dinners and a sleepover - a sort of high-powered pajama party.

"I think it reflects his love of the presidency, and his interest in being active right down to the end," says presidential scholar Martha Kumar. Indeed, as the president is so fond of saying, others may have done a better job of being commander in chief, but no one loved the job more.

Other students of the presidency put a different spin on it.

"I view it all as totally self-indulgent," says Fred Greenstein, at Princeton University in New Jersey. Mr. Greenstein points out that FDR, one of Clinton's idols, cut back on his popular radio fireside chats because he realized the public can overdose on too much good rhetoric. Clinton, says Greenstein, just can't stop himself. In fact, he's doing one last radio address tomorrow - part goodbye, part legacy review.

The only thing the outgoing president didn't manage was a final press conference. He was too busy for that, say aides. There were all those last-minute national monuments to name, pardons to be given, medals to be awarded, and rules and regulations to be issued.

And, of course, those final tough issues to decide. Like what to do about first pets Buddy and Socks. They've just never gotten along, the president admitted in one of his chatty exit interviews. While the White House and its generous grounds were big enough to keep them apart, that won't be the case in the Clintons' dutch colonial in New York.

"I love that old cat," he told the Reuters news agency. "You know, we picked him up as sort of a half-stray in Arkansas," he said. On the other hand, "I know I'll take Buddy, because I slept with him for 16 months all during the [first lady's] Senate campaign."

Of course, when the first family takes off from Andrews Air Force Base and wings their way to New York Saturday, no one really believes that's the last we'll see of the "comeback kid."

Clinton himself admits as much. "I'm not really saying goodbye. I'm just saying goodbye as president," he told a crowd at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago last week.

The president has been vague about his plans as of 12:01 p.m. Jan. 20. In many ways, he'll follow the presidential model of retirement. He'll write a book, he says, work on his presidential library, hit the lecture circuit.

He often cites Jimmy Carter's post-presidency as one worth emulating. But don't expect Clinton to disappear from politics, as many ex-presidents do. At the very least, he'll be in Washington on the arm of the most high-profile senator in the country.

While his main office will be in New York, he'll also have a temporary one just across the street from the White House. And he'll be fundraising for the Democrats - hardly a statesmanlike role - while filling a leadership void in the wake of the Democrats' loss of the White House.

"Until another Democrat emerges, or there's another great Democratic voice, he is going to be the articulator-in-chief," says John Kessel, a political scientist at Ohio State University.

After eight years of the irrepressible Clinton, one can hardly imagine otherwise.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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