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CAMPAIGN 2000

Act Two for Clinton May Dwarf Act One

November 07, 2000|RICHARD T. COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — It was a sparkling Labor Day afternoon, a perfect time to be on the golf course of the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Va. And President Clinton was two-up on his friend and chief fund-raiser, Terry McAuliffe. Yet the president turned pensive as he slid behind the wheel of the golf cart.

"You know something, Macker," McAuliffe recalled the president saying wistfully. "In 26 years, this is the first time I haven't been in a Labor Day parade."

"There are moments like this when he realizes it's what he's done his whole life, and it's coming to an end," McAuliffe says of the man who--despite the agonies of scandal and impeachment--has relished being president as much as anyone who has ever held the office.

"None of them has wanted to leave the White House when it came right down to it. Jimmy Carter even cried," says Clinton confidant Vernon E. Jordan Jr., who's known every president since Lyndon B. Johnson. "The morning of Jan. 21 will be the worst day for him."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 9, 2000 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Term limit--A Times story Tuesday contained an imprecise description of the limit on U.S. presidential service. Under a 1951 amendment, the Constitution bars presidents from election to more than two terms.

Does this mean William Jefferson Clinton, soon to become the nation's sixth-youngest former president, is glumly contemplating the dustbin of history? Does he expect to be moping about in his Camp David pajamas while others play the great game--perhaps even overshadowed by his wife, if Hillary Rodham Clinton wins her New York Senate race?

Don't bet on it.

Based on what some who know him best say, if even half of Clinton's post-White House plans work out, you ain't seen nothing yet.

His starting point is the redoubtable Carter, whose continual intervention in trouble spots around the world since leaving office has discomfited his successors--and almost eclipsed his own presidency. But Clinton, while vowing not to tread on official toes--especially if his vice president, Democrat Al Gore, wins the presidency--is thinking on a scale that dwarfs Carter, or even the elder statesman gambits of Richard Nixon.

Clinton sounds like a man determined to raise more money, talk with more world leaders and generally plunge deeper into the public fray than any of his modern-day predecessors.

Clinton Is 'Positive About His Future'

From education and health care reform to bringing peace to Northern Ireland and the Middle East, Clinton envisions playing a high-profile role that will cheer his admirers and keep his enemies gnashing their teeth for years to come.

"He's 54 years old and he's in great health. He wants to continue with these causes," says McAuliffe, who talks with Clinton frequently and is helping to raise more than $150 million to fund an ambitious presidential library and other elements of the second act of Clinton's life. "He is upbeat, he is positive about his future, his spirits are great."

Indeed, Skip Rutherford--another longtime friend and head of the Clinton presidential foundation--thinks it won't take long for Clinton to eclipse his fellow living ex-presidents. Ronald Reagan is ill. Gerald R. Ford and George Bush are showing their age, and Carter can't go on forever. Soon, Clinton will have that role all to himself.

"He will cut a wide path on the world stage, despite his detractors," says former Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, who's talked with Clinton recently about his plans. "He's as well-respected worldwide as any leader since FDR."

And history suggests that, although most former presidents subside into figurehead status, some--especially the younger ones--have played important roles after leaving the White House. Theodore Roosevelt became so angry at his successor, William H. Taft, that he bolted the Republican Party and ran for president again on the Bull Moose ticket in 1912--opposing Taft and helping elect Woodrow Wilson president. Grover Cleveland, another youthful former president, also ran for the White House again--and won in 1892, the only man to have two nonconsecutive terms. (The Constitution bars modern-day presidents from doing that.)

The other three who left office younger than Clinton, Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore and James K. Polk, played quieter roles. But John Quincy Adams, a venerable 61 when he left the Oval Office in 1829, won a seat in Congress and became a powerful voice against slavery.

So, Clinton's determination to remain a player could be more than a pipe dream.

To be sure, big plans for the future are not the only things on Clinton's mind in these autumnal moments of his presidency. He is still driving to get more done before he surrenders power. He's involved in planning his presidential library in Little Rock, Ark.--right down to the sizes and shapes of rooms, although he's threatened to relocate the facility if the state disbars him. And as always, he's obsessed with politics--including Gore's bid to succeed him and, most of all, with his wife's Senate race.

Last Accomplishments While in Oval Office

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