Bill Clinton is famously, and sometimes mockingly, remembered for biting his lip before he prepared to say something. At times, it seemed corny or even smarmy, and on Saturday Night Live, it became a staple of the great Phil Hartman’s impression of Clinton during the Clinton Administration. The mannerism was usually followed with a comment like, “I feel your pain.”
However, in Michael Takiff’s awesome oral history of Bill Clinton, A Complicated Man, it is revealed that there was much more to Clinton’s lip biting than a goofy quirk. In fact, it was a calculated action — a speed bump for the lightning quick thoughts of one of the most intellectually powerful and supremely gifted politicians in American history. Clinton’s longtime aide and one of the driving forces of his 1992 Presidential campaign, Paul Begala, says that Clinton was trained to do the lip biting because Clinton answered questions so quickly that it almost seemed unnatural.
According to Begala:
“He was so smart about so many things but also could connect. The whole thing about his biting his lip — that was coached. Because he would answer so fast. We’d say, ‘Take a beat. Pretend you’re thinking about it. Pretend you haven’t already got an answer.’ It was a studied thing to give himself a second to force himself to slow down.”
Bill Clinton. No hesitation on that answer. He’d be a perfect roommate for me for several reasons. We’re both night owls/insomniacs, so neither of us would have to tiptoe around in fear of waking the other roommate, plus we’d have someone to hang out with at 3:00 AM every morning.
All of the Presidents would be interesting in one way or another, but Clinton seems like he’d be the easiest to just sit around and talk to or play rounds of Hearts with. I’m sure he’s also the type of guy who enjoys a good meal (or, at least, was before he decided to eat better after his heart surgery), and finding a roommate who enjoys the same food as you is always a bonus.
Clinton and I have similar tastes in books. I’d pay double the original rent just to combine my library with his. Also, since I tend to be anti-social, Clinton as roommate would be the best medicine for that. He’d be great for throwing parties, and I tend to believe that he’d be a pretty damn good wingman when it came to meeting nice ladies.
Bill Clinton can talk to anybody and immediately make a new friend, and that would be great. He’s just likable, and you can’t ask for much more than a roommate you like being around. Even political rivals seem to end up liking him personally. George W. Bush had quite a bit of resentment towards Clinton because he beat Bush’s father in 1992. But once they got to know each other, 43 was asked how he felt about his predecessor, 42, and Bush said, “Are you kidding? How can you not like Bill Clinton?”
I don’t like living with roommates and feel like living alone is the best way to experience freedom, but I’ve really warmed to this idea while answering this question. I’m in if you’re in, Mr. President! I’ll come work at the Clinton Foundation and we can carpool. Also, I cook, if that helps.
He’s luckier than a dog with two dicks.
Bill Clinton, to aides, on Barack Obama’s good fortune against Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign
•For hundreds of more fascinating quotes just like this, go buy my book TRIBUTES AND TRASH TALK: WHAT OUR PRESIDENTS SAID ABOUT EACH OTHER for just $4.95.
•Barnes & Noble/Nook: http://tinyurl.com/TTTNook
President Clinton and Bob Dole being Senate Spouses is pretty great. Clinton and Dole are right up near the top of the list when it comes to former campaign rivals who enjoyed a friendly relationship afterward. I think it would probably have to be Clinton and George H. W. Bush, though. I love reading about how close they are and how Clinton’s basically been adopted into the Bush Family.
Honorable mentions would go to Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford who bonded after their 1976 campaign against each other. Also, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie. Despite losing to FDR in 1940, Willkie gave Roosevelt his support as the U.S. entered World War II. FDR even sent Willkie to Europe as a special envoy during the war. Of course, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had themselves a little bit of a beef that turned into one of history’s most fascinating friendships as they aged.
Worst? The relationship between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams was pretty nasty and I’d be stunned if there wasn’t some animosity between George W. Bush and Al Gore, but I’m going to go with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover. At one point, FDR and Hoover were quite friendly, but issues heated up between them during the transition after FDR beat Hoover in the 1932 election. Once FDR was President, Hoover was treated as if he were radioactive. Despite Hoover’s massive success in relief efforts during the first World War, FDR asked nothing from Hoover. After FDR died, it only took a few days before President Truman contacted Hoover for advice and to put him to work.
Kind of like awarding President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize? I guess it doesn’t make much sense, but if it’s GLAAD giving Clinton an award, who am I to say he doesn’t deserve it?
"It’s frustrating when I think we’re majoring in the minors, either over the budget debate, or going right back to politics as soon as the last election is over instead of getting into the grimy details where the future of America will be written."
— Bill Clinton, on how people need to stop obsessing over Hillary’s 2016 plans or potential Presidential candidates and focus on the problems today. (Via Politico)
I think that Eisenhower and Reagan probably would have been tempted to seek a third term, if possible. They both had health problems during their Presidencies, but I could see Eisenhower seeking a third term anyway. He had a difficult time stepping away, which is one reason why he waited so long to give Richard Nixon a solid endorsement in 1960. It wasn’t necessarily a lack of confidence in Nixon’s abilities, but partly because Ike felt that he (Ike) was still the best man for the job.
Reagan, like Clinton, loved being President, too. But when Reagan left office in 1989, he was about two weeks away from his 78th birthday and, according to his official biographer, Edmund Morris, there were signs that he may have been facing the early stages of his Alzheimer’s in the last few weeks of his Administration. Since President Reagan looked relatively healthy and definitely looked fit for his age, it’s difficult for people to realize that he was almost a full eight years older than Eisenhower (70) was when Ike left office. Even if Eisenhower had served another term, Ike still would have been four years younger than Reagan at the end of that third term. I think Reagan’s age and deteriorating health would have prevented him from a third term if it was Constitutionally possible. As closely as his public image was protected by Nancy Reagan, there is no way she would have stood by while he hung on for another term and publicly started to suffer from serious Alzheimer’s symptoms.
An interesting thing is that, if they had the opportunity to run for a third term and their health allowed it, I think Eisenhower, Reagan, and Clinton all would have been easily elected to another term. I think George W. Bush would have had a much more difficult time with seeking a third term, if possible. However, I don’t think Bush would have run again even if he was Constitutionally eligible. In those last few months of 2008, President Bush looked SO ready to get back to Texas. Even if his chances of being re-elected were positive, I still think he would have chosen retirement instead of a third term.
As for the second part of your question, I think that Truman would have stepped away in 1952, no matter what. All Truman ever wanted to do was remain a U.S. Senator. When he was suggested as a potential Vice Presidential candidate, he was not interested, and when others reminded him that President Franklin D. Roosevelt likely wouldn’t survive the term, Truman declared that he didn’t want to be President either. Of course, he was elected Vice President and as in the case of almost every VP who succeeds to the Presidency, once Truman got to the White House he wanted to be elected to a term in his own right. Still, before Eisenhower declared that he was a Republican, Truman was suggesting that he (Truman) would be happy to step aside and be Eisenhower’s running mate if Ike wanted to run for President as a Democrat. So, Harry Truman did not mind retiring home to Missouri in 1952, and I think he would have done so, no matter what.
LBJ’s case was different. The fact that he was very nearly upset in the 1968 New Hampshire Democratic Primary by Eugene McCarthy really shook President Johnson up and showed that he was vulnerable. If there wasn’t a serious challenge from within his own party — first from McCarthy and then from RFK — LBJ would have stayed in that race in 1968. Despite his withdrawal from the race, deep down LBJ still had a flicker of hope that the Democratic National Convention would be deadlocked, turn to the outgoing LBJ, draft him into the race, nominate him, and he’d be the conquering hero, vanquishing Nixon and bringing the Vietnam War to an end.
LBJ was also a man of contradictions, though. Throughout his life, he always said that he would die young because all of the men in his family died by the time they were 64 or 65. As much as Johnson was addicted to power and craved the love of the American people (something that he never received like JFK did, which “broke his heart” according to Richard Nixon), he was also deeply worried that another four years in the White House would kill him. Worse yet, he would suffer an incapacitating stroke like Woodrow Wilson. LBJ often had a nightmare where he fell ill like Wilson and was an invalid — a shell of a once-powerful man bedridden or feebly being rolled through the White House in a wheelchair. It was an macabre thing to think about, but it was something that frequently haunted President Johnson, especially because he had suffered a near-fatal massive heart attack in 1955 when he was Senate Majority Leader. The confident, arrogant, impetuous, strong-willed LBJ wanted to take on Nixon and serve four more years in the White House. The sensitive, insecure, depressed LBJ considered resigning, didn’t think he’d live through the next term (1969-1973), and often had to receive a pep talk from Lady Bird to get his act together and go to work. So, with LBJ, it would actually depend on which LBJ you got on decision day when it comes to whether he would have sought a third term if not for the disastrous results of the 1968 New Hampshire Democratic Primary.
By the way, Lyndon Johnson died on January 22, 1973. If he had served a third term, it would have ended on January 20, 1973, just two days prior to the day that he actually died.