Bill Clinton. (photo: Getty)
Mark Warren | Esquire | Reader Supported News | September 19, 2015
Among political figures, only President Kennedy has appeared more often on this magazine’s covers. Even as Hillary takes over the stage, Bill remains a powerful and enlivening public force. And is likely to remain so, even into the administration of his third successor. We spoke with him again recently.
n July 2, 1964, when Lyndon Johnson turned to his aide Bill Moyers after signing the Civil Rights Act and said, “I’ve just handed the South to the Republicans for a generation,” Bill Clinton was seventeen and had already decided to run for public office, as a civil-rights Democrat. It was as a Southerner whose moral imagination had been awakened by the racism all around him that Clinton would shape his political career—in a canny, treacherous, and open rebellion against the values that prevailed in the place that created him. And so it would be that Clinton—the greatest political talent of his generation, the one his opponents feared most and most ardently sought to destroy—not only would learn to survive but would become the embodiment of American potential in the late twentieth century. He would take those survival skills with him onto the world stage, which meant that he would have fixed principles but everything else would be negotiable. This approach often vexed both his opposition and his allies as he led the world during the first chaotic decade after the fall of global Communism and faced the rise of global jihadism, genocide in the hearts of Europe and Africa, economic globalization, the realignment of Congress, the birth of the Internet, and his own political mortality. But by the end of his second term, when he appeared on the December 2000 cover of Esquire, he had the highest approval rating of any departing president in history. We recently sat down with the former president to talk about how the world has changed in the fifteen years since he left office.
ESQUIRE: Mr. President, the world became a very different place after your presidency. Was 9/11 the pivotal point for the time in which we live now? What in your mind has been its effect, and how long will the effects of that day play out?
Well, let me just say a few words about the time I served and then the impact of 9/11. Because of the economic growth we had and because it was the only period where prosperity was broadly shared through every sector of the American economy, America was in a very strong position to try to take the end of the cold war and build new partnerships of all kinds, which I tried to do. We did have terrorist threats, many of which we defused and prevented from getting worse, sometimes through skill, sometimes through luck. You gotta get lucky in this business, ’cause it ain’t like baseball; you don’t get credit for saves. You’re supposed to win 100 percent of the time, and it’s difficult to do. So when 9/11 happened, it was such a shock to us that there were a lot of short- and long-term consequences.