Clinton Leaves Saying 'We Did Good'
NEW YORK - Reluctant to relinquish the spotlight, Bill Clinton made a U-turn as he was leaving the Oval Office for the last time and strolled over to a window for one last glimpse of the White House grounds. His roller-coaster presidency that even in its last two days was tainted by the scandals that dogged his administration, was almost over. John Podesta, Clinton's chief of staff, slipped an arm around the outgoing president and told him: ``We did good.'' Clinton looked up, and with a smile on his face, replied ``Yeah, we did do good,'' Podesta said. With that, Clinton walked out of the office that was now President Bush's. ``Don't be sad. This is a good day. We're leaving with our heads up,'' Podesta said Clinton told three teary-eyed staff members. Then Clinton stood cheerily with his family in the cold for the swearing in of his successor, George W. Bush, and flew off to New York for his new life as spouse of a U.S. senator. Once in New York, Clinton was a little sentimental as he climbed in a van bound for his home in Chappaqua. ``I feel good. I'll miss it, but I've had a wonderful eight years,'' he said.
Not everything ended on a high note. Clinton cut a surprise, last-minute deal with federal prosecutors, sparing himself from possible indictment. Clinton acknowledged that he had made false statements under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, a political drama that led to his impeachment. It was a reminder of the dark side of the Clinton years. Among his accomplishments, the 42nd president, presided over the longest economic expansion in history, succeeded in expanding trade and trimmed the welfare rolls. At 54, Clinton is the youngest president to leave office since Teddy Roosevelt left the White House at age 50. He left with some of the highest popularity ratings of any president in the last half century - made possible by an electorate who separated his personal recklessness from his presidential performance.
True to his word, Clinton worked until the end. In his final days, he issued a flurry of executive orders, called world leaders, gave a televised farewell address to the nation and made the deal with Independent Counsel Robert Ray, which included a five-year suspension of his law license. With only two hours left of his presidency, and just before he greeted George Bush and first lady Laura Bush at the White House, Clinton pardoned 140 Americans, erasing the criminal records of his brother Roger, Whitewater business partner Susan McDougal and 1970s kidnapped heiress Patricia Hearst in a mix of personal and historical acts of clemency.
Clinton, the skin under his eyes puffy from a sleepless night, took his last step out of the White House shortly after 11 a.m. EST. He and Bush climbed in the presidential limousine for the 16-block ride to the Capitol for the formal passage of power. Bush's inaugural speech included subtle references to his own campaign pledge to restore the dignity he believed Clinton had erased from the White House. ``America, at its best, is a place where personal responsibility is valued and expected,'' Bush said, and then: ``Our public interest depends on private character.''
Clinton, booed by some at his entrance, appeared unperturbed, smiling and applauding Bush at times. He grinned and held his wife's hand as they walked with Bush and first lady Laura Bush for their last ride in a presidential limousine. ``Good luck to you, sir,'' former White House press secretary Jake Siewert said Clinton told Bush. The new president later would find a handwritten note Clinton left him on the desk in the Oval Office. Attached was the note Bush's father, former President Bush, had left to Clinton eight years ago. It was now Bush's turn to lead. The Clintons had a plane to catch.
``You gave me the ride of my life,'' Clinton told more than 2,000 supporters who gave him a warm send-off in a chilly hangar at Andrews Air Force Base. He noted a sign in the crowd that said ``Please Don't Go,'' and joked: ``I left the White House, but I'm still here. We're not going anywhere.'' His plane, dubbed Special Air Mission 28000, left on ``Clinton-time'' - behind schedule. As the plane took off from a rain-slickened runway, the president posed for snapshots with staff. Unfazed by the Clinton farewell, the president's friend, Vernon Jordon, relaxed with a newspaper nearby. Buddy roamed up and down the aisles. Socks, the family cat, has been adopted by the ex-president's secretary, Bettie Currie.
Clinton's national security adviser Sandy Berger, a key player in the administrations' unfinished work to seal a peace accord in the Middle East, described Clinton's mood as ``grateful, sentimental, not sad.'' When they arrived in New York, the Clintons greeted their new hometown crowd that gathered in another airplane hanger. This time it was Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton who took the spotlight. ``We are so glad to see all of you and happy to be here,'' the senator said. ``For eight years this president and administration put people first.''
Clinton bares soul, speaks of past and future.
By Deborah Charles
It is not the White House, Air Force One or even hearing ``Hail to the Chief'' when he enters a room. What President Bill Clinton says he will miss most after he leaves office is the work.
Speaking to a crowd of 4,500 at the Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago on Aug 10, 2000, Clinton discussed his perception of his job, his successes and failures and what he will remember about his eight years as president. He joked that the presidential plane, Air Force One, relieved him of the ``screaming tedium that tests your faith every time you walk in an airport,'' and that former presidents had told him of having to get used to not hearing music when they walked into a room. But he added, ``What I will miss more than anything else is the job. It is the most rewarding work you could ever imagine.''
During a 75-minute discussion with Bill Hybels, the church's senior pastor, Clinton said, ``Sometimes I think it assumes proportions, the presidency does, that are both too mythical and too trivial, as if it's all just positioning and politics -- not true.'' ``It's a job like other jobs. It matters what you think you're supposed to do. It matters whether you've got a strategy to get there. It matters whether you've got a good team. And it matters how hard you work.''
'IT WAS THE JOB THAT I LOVED'
Speaking in the past tense -- rare for a man who insisted that he will not be a lame duck and will work right up until he leaves office on Jan. 20, 2001 -- Clinton said he enjoyed being president in good times and bad. ``It was the job that I loved. Every day,'' he said. ``Even the terrible days, I loved the work.''
Clinton, who spoke during the session about his spiritual renewal process after the Monica Lewinsky sex-and-perjury scandal that led to his impeachment, also mused on how he wanted to be remembered. ``I would like to be remembered for leading the country through a great period of transformation,'' he said. ``And I would like to be remembered as the president that led America from the industrial era into the information age.'' He said the lowest points of his presidency included the Lewinsky sex scandal, the loss of 18 U.S. soldiers in Somalia and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 that killed 168 people. Some of his toughest decisions were putting Americans into battle, such as in the conflict in Kosovo and military action against Iraq shortly after he took office in 1993, he said. Another tough decision was his economic plan in 1993, when Clinton convinced Democratic lawmakers to support a controversial belt-tightening programme that cost many of them their seats in the 1994 midterm election.
Among the high points, Clinton cited the economic turnaround, visiting Sarajevo after the Bosnian war, getting Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to shake hands, and seeing Nelson Mandela's prison cell with the former South African leader. Clinton said he always knew he had leadership skills, but recalled his grandmother's warning that he did not have what it took to be a clergyman.
``My grandmother just looked at me and she said, 'You know, Billy, I think you could be a preacher if you were just a little better boy.'''
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