I have been searching for words to describe Bill Clinton for over two years. He is the most unique president I have seen in my years of following politics. He won the election in 1992, and yet never stopped campaigning. In fact while the battle of the budget rages in the nations capitol, the president is on the stump giving what amounts to protest speeches. Rather than the Commander in Chief, he seems to be some disenfranchised member of the opposition. I would say leader of the opposition, but Clinton has so contradicted every stand he has attempted to make that he hardly qualifies as the leader of anything, with the possible exception of number of different stands taken on the same issue.
Last night I was listening to the radio and heard the hosts of a talk show discussing a recent episode where apparently President Clinton added a Blues Brothers take off to his already legendary saxophone performance on the Arsenio Hall show. They expressed embarrassment for him and proclaimed him the first genuine "Goofball President of the United States." For a moment time was suspended for me as I realized that the description of Bill Clinton I had been searching for had just come to me via the radio airwaves.
A goofball president, now that is provocative. Contrary to the media's desparate attempts to make this presidency seem credible, there is little doubt that Clinton is a "goofball", but is he the first? I made a scan only back into the late 1960s because to be honest I am not sure the term "goofball" had any specific applications before the 1960s.
Nixon may come as close as any to "goofball" status in the White House. He is undermined in his bid though by a real talent as a statesman. Yes he was paranoid, and at least as sleazy as Clinton, but those do not constitute compelling evidence for standing as a "goofball" in and of themselves.
The enduring picture of Ford taking a header off of Air Force One or scattering a gallery with errant golf shots is temptation enough to label him a "goofball", but before his presidency Ford was an esteemed member of congress with an unblemished reputation for credibility.
There are those who would just love to label Carter a "goofball", but anyone who was as tragic a figure as president as Carter just doesn't seem funny enough to be a "goofball." A victim of "National Malaise" perhaps, but not what I am looking for. There must be a comic element, preferably unintentional.
I think we are getting warm here, but President Reagan just had too much real power and influence to be a "goofball" in the truest sense. Clinton's apparent irrelevancy to the governing process is what separates the two. In addition, Reagan's staff went out of the way to make the president look good. Clinton's staff (those who are not under indictment or already doing time) seemingly do the opposite.
It is hard to ascend to "goofball" status with as complete a resume of service as George Bush has. If he was one, it was no doubt in the privacy of his own home. With the exception of once exposing his butt crack to the national press corps while untangling a fishing line, the man had an impeccable sense of propriety.
While all of these fine men embody some part of the "goofball" ideal , noone quite captures the spirit and essence like Bill Clinton. In defending this point it is necessary to remind the reader that much of what our president does is a product of careful planning. This means that a staff of "likeminded" people had to be hired and trained to come up with consistantly inconsistant foreign policy, contradictory domestic ideas, and public relations debacles. This is not only goofy, but indicative of a certain warped premeditation in the process. In fact, it is rumored that the aforementioned sax playing and Blues Brothers act were actually staff recommendations. These events are not just some random flashbacks by the president or his staff. This is the stuff that "goofballs" are made of. Who knows how many great men have narrowly missed being labeled as "goofballs" simply because they surrounded themselves with competence? This is definitely not the case in the Clinton White House.
General Colin Powell recently recalled a Joint Chiefs briefing that he undertook at the White House in the early days of the Clinton presidency. He likened it to "some college rap session" with apparent disdain in his voice. In my opinion, he was probably thinking "goofball", but didn't want to say it. I'll bet it took every single bit of military discipline he had not to call the Commander in Chief of these United States a "goofball."