Try to remember a time in September when it was reported that the Hillary Clinton campaign showed its "hard-nosed media strategy" by getting GQ magazine to spike a piece on Clinton team in-fighting by threatening to pull access to Bill Clinton for GQ’s planned December "Man of the Year" cover package. Well, that "Man of the Year" issue is out, and there was no bucking, only fawning. The article is titled "Bill Clinton, Public Citizen: On the road with one man who believe that there is no problem on Earth, no matter how complex or horrific, that cannot be solved." GQ spiked the negative article and gave the former president a puff piece so puffy that it will lead to Monica Lewinsky jokes. The editor found Clinton to be Reaganesque.
In his letter from the editor in the December issue, Editor/Spiker-in-Chief Jim Nelson makes no reference to the deal he made with the Clintons. In a note headlined "The Year of the Wide Stance," he summarized the year like this: "It was a year when politicians couldn’t decide what they stood for – or in the case of Larry Craig, what they sat for." Nelson mocked Rudy Giuliani for citing Reagan as a role model and joked candidates should pick a more obscure president to model after, like alcoholic Franklin Pierce. Then he compared Clinton favorably to Reagan:
Say what you will about Kanye West or A-Rod or Bill Clinton or Mike Bloomberg, but these guys have led. Their actions and ideas and performances and bruising hip-hop swagger (I’m talkin’ about you, Bloomberg!) made the crucial difference this year...And I believe they inspired us all to be a little more like Ronald Reagan.
Reporter George Saunders began the puff piece in the Dominican Republic with Clinton as he entered a hospital full of children. He quickly establishes that the tone of this article will be that Bill Clinton is a brilliant savior of a half-millions AIDS sufferers, and anyone who has ever opposed him is an infantile lout for doing so:
Clinton doesn’t say a word as he enters. I’m expecting the affable, gregarious, at ease president of legend to exude a burst of tension-diffusing warmth. But no. He’s tall, thin, white-haired, and solemn, like the ghost of Jimmy Stewart, if death had made Jimmy Stewart watchful and biblically dour.
Clinton nods gravely to a nun, touches one kid on the head, stares at another a beat longer than you would expect, as if he’s met the kid before and is trying to remember where. The silence goes on an uncomfortably long time. It begins to feel, possibly, like sullenness, or confusion. Is he exhausted? Has he had it will all the traveling, the attention, the continual expectation that he will exude bursts of tension-diffusing warmth?
The silence has the effect of bringing the room to attention. The kids go quiet. Even we Press, behind our green rope, stop jostling and photographing and just look. Suddenly, whether it’s accidental, intentional, or some rot of visceral Zen body-sense he’s acquired over many years of doing this kind of thing, we’re all more in the room than we were a few seconds earlier. We’re having – he is causing us to have – a moment.
In this little Clinton-caused moment, something occurs to me: If not for –
At this point, a warning about an encroaching moment of corniness of a type you’ll see again in this story: that which results when a virtuous action, reported objectively, is so virtuous it still sounds corny.
Objectivity has nothing to do with it. Saunders is getting on his knees for his first genuflection:
So: In this little Clinton-caused moment, something occurs to me: If not for the William J. Clinton Foundation, every one of these kids would be dead or dying soon, since every one of them is HIV-positive, and until the foundation intervened, almost no one in the Dominican Republc had access to life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). And for most kids this young, the life expectancy for something with HIV no on ARVs is five years.
"I see a vacant seat in the poor chimney corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved," the Ghost of Christmas Present says to Scrooge, re Tiny Tim. "If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die."
The kids – these twenty altered shadows – present Clinton with a poster: CHILDREN LIVING WITH AIDS. A BIG CHALLENGE FOR THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC.
The teachers count off: "Uno, dos, tres..."
"DENK YOU!" the kids shout.
Saunders projected that Clinton saved the lives of half a million people, reporting that in 2002, only two million of 35 million people in the world with HIV had access to those ARV drugs.
If you’re like me, you vaguely knew about this and took it as proof of the essential powerlessness of man and the cruelty of a universe in which certain horrible problems were simply too complex to solve.
If you were Bill Clinton, you called Ira Magaziner, senior adviser for policy development in your White House and key architect of your universal health plan, and together you went off and brokered a deal with some Indian and South African generic-drug companies, a deal now legendary for the judoistic, zero-sum beauty of its logic.
Clinton convinced generic drug makers to lower their prices by promising to provide purchase the drugs in volume:
The Clinton Foundation estimates that some 750,000 people are now taking reduced-price ARVs purchased under the Clinton HIV-AIDS Initiative-negotiated agreements. The New York Times puts this figure at 400,000.
Either way, it’s huge: half a million people, sentenced to die, given a reprieve.
It would be wise to suspect that Saunders is merely recycling the entire Clinton Foundation publicity pitch. For example, even as they fawned about Clinton’s prodigious talents, Fortune magazine reported some quibbles around the edges for how much credit is warranted. But Saunders confessed he was a longtime Clinton booster, that Bill’s speeches made him cry:
Bill Clinton, the man who was president when my daughters were small, whose inaugural speech ("force the spring") choked me up in my cubicle, whose State of the Unions my wife and I watched year after year in our little house in Rochester; whom I let slip off my radar somewhat during that long second term, because having admired him, I felt let down and sick about the whole mess: his mistakes and the way some people jumped on those mistakes, exulting in what was a complex, personal issue, the infantile streak it revealed in us as a culture.
I'm still amazed that some people can see a man beginning an affair with an intern that's almost his daughter's age as she flashed her thong underwear at him and...call his critics "infantile." Saunders and other Clinton cheerleaders never acknowledge that this "whole mess" was all about a sexual-harassment lawsuit, the charge that he had forced himself on unwilling state employees like Paula Jones and demanded their sexual attention. He settled with Jones to the tune of $850,000.
Still to come: more GQ fawning over Clinton and his foundation staff. See Goo No. 2 here.