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NATION STILL HAS CLINTON ON THE BRAIN

To paraphrase the Robert Palmer song, might as well face it, we're addicted to Clinton.

We will not let him go. We tell people we're done with him, finished, he's out of our system. Then we sneak off for another injection of his private life, his lack of discipline, his brash flaunting of power or his amazing ability to act like the victim.

Nearly a month after inauguration, there are two presidents in these United States, the one who gets the attention and the one who has the job.

And as George W. Bush looks on almost helplessly, Bill Clinton may have finally achieved his dream: all of the spotlight, none of the responsibility.

"He's like crack cocaine," said Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, who helped break the Monica Lewinsky scandal. "You can't get enough."

Of course, Clinton does provide ample supply. Consider how many headlines the ex-prez has made since leaving office:

The Marc Rich pardon, still an all-day story on the cable news networks.

The office space controversy, where he went from being above the people in a Central Park luxury building to among the people in Harlem.

The gifts he and Hillary took on their way out of the White House.

His $150,000 fee for speaking to an investment firm -- and the subsequent mea culpa from that firm, saying it was a mistake to have hired Clinton.

The cell phone call with Geraldo Rivera, in which Clinton claimed to be "bewildered" by all the fuss being made over him.

Now. There is a school of thought that says once you hit Geraldo Rivera, you're on your way out. Then again, Geraldo called him, didn't he?

Here is what fascinates us about Bill Clinton: He is the intersection of Hollywood and Washington, less a politician than a leading man.

In Hollywood, when they create a movie or TV show, the producers always say, "Make us care about the characters." If the characters evoke emotion, if they are human, flawed, attractive, emotional, people will connect, and it really won't matter if they are in a hospital ("ER"), a deserted island ("Cast Away") or, well, the Oval Office ("The West Wing").

Bill Clinton, only 54, passes that character test. Evokes emotion, shows his flaws, displays his sex drive, flaunts his ambition. He is a character out of a drama. And as a nation that spends six or seven hours a day watching TV and movies, is it any wonder that what fascinates us in our entertainment also fascinates us in our politics?

So Clinton pardons a Swiss-based fugitive, and we see the man skiing the slopes of St. Moritz, and we see Clinton taking a gift from the man's ex-wife, and she is dressed in sequins -- and then we look over at George W. Bush, who is talking about a military policy review and, well, which way is a candy-addicted nation going to turn?

Or we see Clinton bustling through Harlem, people pushing and cheering his name, and downtown his wife's ex-rival, Rudy Giuliani, is shaking a fist and threatening him, saying he owns the building and Bill can't have it, and we see that on one side, and on the other there's President Bush, going to Mexico for a summit. Again, which way will we turn?

Now, you can argue that the media are at fault here. Certainly the cable news networks do not want to let Clinton go, since his scandals offered them the highest ratings they've ever had (except O.J., but how often can you count on that?).

But the media -- especially TV and radio -- go where the ratings are. If people didn't watch, they wouldn't show it. It's like "Temptation Island." Everybody hates it. And it gets killer numbers. Somebody's sneaking a peek.

In time, of course, Clinton will fade. But, like O.J., any time he does anything controversial, the camera trucks will be there.

Why, you ask? If the man was impeached, hounded by prosecutors, an admitted adulterer, brazen to his critics, why are we still so interested?

Wasn't it Voltaire who said, "People will forgive you anything but boredom"?

I think Clinton has that book on his shelf.

Detroit Free Press

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