21st-Century Clinton

It’s beginning to look as though Bill Clinton’s ex-presidency will start precisely when the voters planned it to start, in 2001. His Senate trial will probably result in acquittal, if it occurs at all. Otherwise, Clinton will be censured in some way. Chatterbox has already stated his preferred outcome, but will repeat it for latecomers: strongly-worded censure in which Clinton is forced to admit that he committed perjury. (If pressed, Chatterbox may settle for “lied under oath.”) Chatterbox agrees with his esteemed colleague, The Other Chatterbox, that Clinton should not be forced to pay a fine, because that would be just an invitation for the president to engage in more ethically questionable fund-raising.

So: Clinton will walk out of the Oval Office in 2001. He won’t have gotten much done during the previous two years. He may or may not still be married to the former Hillary Rodham. His reputation will not be in good shape. But he’ll still have at least 20 or 30 years of his life to live. Chatterbox is going to assume Clinton won’t have to spend any of those years in jail. (Even if Ken Starr were to prosecute Clinton when he vacates office, it’s unlikely Starr could find a jury that wasn’t sick of this whole thing.) What should ex-President Clinton do?

Chatterbox thinks Clinton should run for the House or the Senate. The obvious antecedent here is John Quincy Adams, but Chatterbox has just discovered another, less-well-known one: Andrew Johnson. Six years after leaving the White House, the only other U.S. president to have been impeached was elected to the Senate from his home state of Tennessee. Nobody remembers this because Johnson died six months after his election. Except, of course, for the dying part, Chatterbox thinks this is an excellent career road map for Clinton. Chatterbox has little doubt that Clinton would be a superb legislator. Indeed, an argument could be made that Clinton’s temperament (a passion for making deals at all costs, questionable personal morals) makes him much more suited for Congress than he ever was for the White House. As a member of the House or Senate, Clinton could work to resurrect large-scale reform of the nation’s health-care system, a task that still needs doing. Were Clinton to succeed this time out, he’d have a shot at going down in the history books as a flawed-but-great man.

–Timothy Noah