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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 12:28 GMT
A president with a personal touch
Bill Clinton mobbed by a crowd
A man who feeds off the adulation of crowds
US affairs analyst Gordon Corera says Bill Clinton's remarkable people skills were his greatest political asset - and his ultimate downfall

The day after Bill Clinton had been triumphantly re-elected president in 1996, a group of those who had worked on his campaign were invited into the West Wing to have a drink with some of the White House staff.

After about an hour, and just as some people were starting to think about drifting off, he came down the steps into the midst of the little gathering.


Clinton has a legendary reputation for making you feel, at least for those few fleeting seconds, that you really are the most important person in his world

As almost everyone who has met Bill Clinton (or who has read the opening of the novel Primary Colors) will tell you, he exudes a remarkable presence at close quarters. It was my most memorable meeting with him.

Clinton has a legendary - and fully deserved - reputation for his ability to work a room, methodically working his way round a group of people and finding something individual to talk about to each of them and making you feel, at least for those few fleeting seconds, that you really are the most important person in his world.

It is a remarkable skill and has also been his greatest political asset which, when combined with a razor sharp mind and understanding of detail, has made him an inordinately successful politician.

Even Newt Gingrich, the abrasive right-wing leader of the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, once admitted that even he had been charmed by the personal attention of the president at tough budget negotiations.

Bill Clinton with Albanian refugee
Clinton used his personal touch on the world stage as well as at home
During the 1996 campaign, one writer noted that while most candidates for office could at least pretend they really did love meeting crowds and talking to individual voters, Bill Clinton did not even need to try to pretend.

He really did feed off the energy of crowds and their adulation for him, working the rope-line of people long after others would have given up, and staying until his exasperated aides finally dragged him away, inevitably late for his next engagement.

The same star power was also evident in almost every foreign trip the president took. Whether he was in Northern Ireland or in Africa, he would be mobbed by people in a way more akin to the response that a rock star or Hollywood celebrity gets.

But sadly, that remarkable empathy and personal touch has ended up being used most to get himself out of trouble. His desire to be loved by everyone was the very thing that led him astray.


Bill Clinton saw a Gore victory as the ultimate validation of his achievements and legacy, but it was Clinton himself who made this impossible

It was his desire for adulation from the nation as a whole that led him to rely so heavily on opinion polls and focus groups, leading to a defensive domestic agenda that lacked ambition and declined to take risks. And on a personal level it also led him to his greatest folly - his entanglement with Monica Lewinsky.

People asked why Clinton's campaigning skills were never unleashed on behalf of Al Gore's effort to succeed him. But the problem for Gore was that the whole Lewinsky debacle put him in an incredibly difficult position - forcing the vice president to distance himself from the Clinton years and thereby preventing him taking credit for the then booming economy and all the positive achievements.

Bill Clinton saw a Gore victory as the ultimate validation of his achievements and legacy, but it was Clinton himself who made this impossible.

More than most presidents, you could never separate Bill Clinton the man from Bill Clinton the president, the person from the politician. The very skills that made him such a successful politician also made his presidency one of missed opportunities.

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