Sally Bedell Smith is a bestselling author who has given us the best portrait we have of the Bill and Hillary Clinton years in the White House. She is not a partisan, revealing nothing of an agenda to promote or attack the Clintons, much like several biographers who have written about Bill alone.
Smith’s excellent book, For Love of Politics, is an immensely interesting, even entertaining, sketch of how this couple navigated personal issues as well as politics for eight years as a team. (Make no mistake about it they are a team!)
Today I cite only one comment from the book. Special negotiations were underway to sign NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. Bill learned of secret negotiations, without U.S. involvement, that had been underway in Norway for months to try and solve the issue of the Palestinians and the West Bank/Gaza Strip debate. Bill, being quick to grasp the value of being seen between Rabin and Arafat invited them to Washington so he could shake their hands and agree with the plan. Robert Reich, Bill’s old friend, said, "It’s a gift from heaven. Bill is reconciling age-old enemies." Never one to miss an opportunity this one was truly huge to Bill. Bill was to make a short speech the day of the event but one he wanted to get real value out of it politically. He was awake until 3 a.m. reading the Book of Joshua. (Bill didn’t sleep much.) In his brief speech the next day he referenced the Bible and the Koran (without notes) and this led Reich to say: "He’s the nation’s Preacher-in-Chief. This is his true calling."
Bill Clinton once wanted to become a preacher when he was quite young. He led us much like a southern preacher leads. I have said, time and time again, he was the quintessential "evangelical" president, in terms of the culture and practice of his faith in public. And if you have watch him sing you see that he knows whole hymns from memory. He knows the Bible quite well too! But something was missing, as most would agree even if their are inclined to like the former-president.
I believe this account reveals two very interesting things:
1. You can know religion, even evangelical religion, very well and practice it openly but your inner life is not whole. The absence of real spiritual formation is evident in Bill Clinton’s life and the counsel he got from various popular evangelical leaders didn’t seem to do anything to change this in the least. This reveals one of the deep holes in the evangelical soul in present-day America. Bill is too much like us for our own comfort. Most refuse to see this connection I have discovered.
2. We do not need another "Preacher-in-Chief" in the White House. This is why I am grateful that religion will, very likely, play a much lower profile in the coming election. Except for the controversy about Obama’s pastor the subject of religion has not been central to this campaign in either a pop-cultural or partisan way. I think this is a good thing.
I want to know how a candidate will govern philosophically. I want to know if he/she has a place for faith in the public arena and sees that faith has a vital role to play in American culture and morality. I do not need to know about their private faith practices thus these things are a non-issue for me as a Christian voter and citizen.
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Great, timely post.
I, too, was raised to memorize hymns and scripture, “But something was missing.” In my life, and perhaps in the life of President Clinton, that missing something was really a missing Someone, the power and effect of the Holy Spirit.
I don’t know if Clinton is too much like me for my own comfort, but I do understand in some small way the inner conflict that I think he endured, and still endures. Because of this real or imagined connection, I sympathize with President Clinton and his family. I pray that God will truly change President Clinton’s life.
As a conservative I cannot support either Democratic candidate, but by the grace of God, I can love those who seek to govern my civic life.