"Clinton," the latest presidential profile by PBS' American Experience, airs at what turns out to be a very good time.
These meticulously researched and artfully produced biographies — the two, two-hour episodes of "Clinton" will air Feb. 20-21 on AETN — are completed at a safe remove from the subject's time in office. Insiders are more willing to talk. History has begun to firm up assessments. "Clinton" has more currency than normal thanks to the race for the Republican presidential nomination and Newt Gingrich's emergence as a strong contender. Gingrich is a critical player in the second half of the Clinton biography. He led the political insurgency that gave Republicans a House majority and made Gingrich, however briefly, a near royal House speaker. You know, too, how it turned out. Clinton stared down a government shutdown, made Gingrich his poodle and survived the Republican coup attempt. Gingrich resigned amid an ethics scandal, but, like the president himself, has proven himself a "Comeback Kid." As the documentary attests, his prior time in the limelight doesn't argue for his presidency today.
And what of Clinton? It's all there. The empathy, the energy, the appetite, the flaws, the triumphs. If the last happened to be more often political victories than historic achievements, the country did enjoy great prosperity and notable foreign policy achievements. Clinton gets credit even though he spent barely a day without
Republicans or a persecutorial prosecutor in hot pursuit. His triangulation of issues gets careful and properly critical examination — though it comes courtesy of too much explanatory air time for Dick Morris, the reptilian political adviser for whom Clinton had such a deep need.
Award-winning documentary director Barak Goodman concludes that Clinton found no triumph in surviving trial in the Senate, only a loss of the drive with which he began his presidency amid so much hope. If that's so — and I'm not so sure — he regained his drive soon enough.
He began running, with some success, to be the most popular political figure in the world. He has been helped by a foundation doing nothing less than attempting to solve world hunger and disease. That was worth a documentary postscript, I think.
This documentary focuses more attention on the first lady than most, but Kenneth Starr (yes, he gave an interview) went after her just as hard, maybe harder, than he went after the president himself. She's secretary of state, you might have heard. He's president of a Bible college.
For Arkies: Lots of good TV footage and photos of the early years in Arkansas in the first installment.