Bill back onstage

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Carol Felsenthal made an interesting observation about the Clintons to me recently. Back in '98, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal was new, a lot of people thought Hillary should have thrown Bill out of the house. But the White House was his house. Giving the bum the heave-ho would have raised constitutional issues. If she's elected in November, he'll have to watch it.

Felsenthal, a friend of mine, is coming out with a new book, Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House. Even in 2001, when he moved out on his own terms because his presidency was over, she says, it was a pretty miserable leavetaking. He was in semidisgrace, thanks to the Marc Rich pardon and stories (way overblown, according to Felsenthal) of his staff trashing Air Force One and the West Wing. TV comics "made him into a ridiculous, pitiful figure." To top it off, he had nowhere to go. The Clintons had bought a place in Chappaqua so she could run for senator in New York, but now that she'd been elected she was never there and it meant nothing to him. "He was stranded with his dog Buddy and his butler and the Secret Service in the garage," with Maureen Dowd hiding out front in the evergreens waiting to pounce, she says.

Felsenthal predicts that Clinton won't be back in the White House anytime soon, but if she's wrong she has no concern that Bill would be, or would even attempt to be, a Putin to Hillary's Medvedev. "She would say, 'Forget that, buddy.'" So what would the ex-president do with himself? Apparently he had trouble with that as president, too. "Hillary goes to sleep at night and in the morning she's wide awake and ready for action," says Felsenthal. "Bill would stay up all night on the telephone and playing cards and then he'd go into a policy meeting and fall asleep." Felsenthal thinks Hillary would get him out of her hair, turning him into an envoy forever on the move, serving his nation by spreading his bad-boy charm.

Clinton showed up onstage with Hillary and Chelsea Tuesday night to bask in the Pennsylvania victory, but he hasn't been seen much since the night of the Iowa defeat. His staying away has been tactical, Felsenthal says, not a sign that the couple's on the outs. They seldom see each other, but they talk all the time, and despite how odd the marriage is it's a strong one, she believes. If Hillary's president she'll be the boss, but he'll be her top consultant, "and that's why the vice presidency in a Hillary Clinton administration would be a bucket of warm piss." In other words, a return to normalcy. That's what John Nance Garner called the vice presidency when he served under FDR, long before the office was taken over by Rasputin, I mean Dick Cheney. 

The book jacket calls Clinton in Exile a "definitive biography," which it isn't. Instructed by her publisher, Morrow, Felsenthal cut some 80,000 words from her original manuscript, most of them telling the pre-2001 "back story." The biographical stuff, in short. Felsenthal has been promoting her book by writing on the Clintons at huffingtonpost.com. She had a good post recently about Bill Clinton's wristwatches. When he was governor, and even after he was elected president, "he was infamous for wearing a cheap plastic Timex Ironman" -- or so Felsenthal was told by a watchmaker who does business with Clinton now. Timex had a big operation in Arkansas. Now Clinton has more than 50 watches, one of them valued at more than $100,000. Felsenthal regrets that "no one has reported which watch the former president sported when he traveled in Pennsylvania bashing Obama as an out-of-touch elitist."

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