Clinton kept referring to the media as (contrary to Kinsley's view) the "supine" media, pointing out that when Bush insulted Helen Thomas (who, by asking a rough question in the infamous prewar press conference had, Clinton said, "committed the sin of journalism"), no "young journalists" stood up and walked out.
The media, the supine media, was going to have to "go to the meat locker and take out its brains and critical skills."
Everybody seemed to love this. Clinton was not just the beloved former president, but he had become some sort of sassy oracle.
There was a party on the second day for Clinton at the Aspen version of Nobu, and then, later that evening, a discussion between Clinton and President Kagame, hosted by the William Morris Agency, at Whiskey Rocks Bar in the St. Regis Hotel (Michael Eisner, the Disney CEO, while not a conference attendee, slipped into the room).
This turned out to be the pivotal moment of the conference - even the primal one. When Clinton took questions, a young man from a technology company who identified himself as chairman of Bush-Cheney 2004 in California said he was offended by Clinton's partisanship. To which Clinton, without hesitation, and with some kind of predatory gleam in his eye, said, "Good!" From there, Clinton went on, with emotion and anger, at a level seemingly foreign to most everyone here, to rip to shreds the motives, values, and legitimacy of the Republicans.
It was all anyone could talk about the next day. People seemed genuinely taken aback (some people kept offering that since it was late at night, in a bar, it didn't quite count) that one of their own might have violated the accepted codes of lofty liberal behavior. There was a little current of fear at the sudden recognition that testosterone could fuel politics. It was a shock, apparently, that we might be this close to real feelings. That politics could actually be personal.
That's because with Clinton, the art of politics IS personal. His political life wasn't a flight of fancy or a late-life afterthought. As I said over and over, Clinton rehearsed for the presidential gig all his life. This is who he is. This is what he does. And since he does it so well, yes - he does take it very, very personally.
What drives the right absolutely CRAZY is that he delivered his campaign promises ("It's the ECONOMY, stupid"), he has an amazing charisma that no Republican can ever achieve no matter how many Karl Roves they hire, and that he's intensely fast on his feet. Granted, his major awkward stumble was when his private life was dragged out of the alley and paraded in front of a world which couldn't care less (except for the horrified neocons and their shrieks of outrage). Otherwise and almost without exception, he meets every hard question head-on, unlike President Khakipackage whose "press conferences" are pre-screened horsecrap charades.
He knows the game and plays it well. And since the 90s are still fresh in our mind, the right is doing everything they can to trash that memory - by virtually destroying and dismantling everything in sight - striking a subtle and harmful fear in Americans, the likes of which must be reversed as soon as humanly possible. Their hatred of Clinton and all he was able to accomplish rings loud each and every day in their books, their talkshows and their columns. Not a day goes by when the name "Clinton" isn't invoked by any of these jealous petty pundits who - after almost three years - cannot get this guy out of their craw.
He's that good a politician. Something they never will be. The only things the right has mastered are anger and cruelty - and they're getting really old really fast.