By the Book

We are not going to pretend that we have yet read the 900-odd pages of the autobiography of former President Bill Clinton, titled self-absorbedly enough My Life. Nor are we likely to. A unique mix of the well-intentioned and the devious, Mr. Clinton was ever, for better or for worse, prolix, and advance reviews of the book have stressed the unevenness of the portions relating to his two-term presidency.

Yet we welcome the book and consider its appearance in the immediate aftermath of former President Ronald Reagan's highly public funeral and in the lull before the political conventions of late summer to be both timely and auspicious. As the accolades bestowed on Reagan during his week of remembrance demonstrated, there is an enormous disposition on the part of the American people to forget and forgive or, at least, to forgive. Partisanship tends to be very much a present-tense state of mind. So should it be with Clinton, and it may well be, to judge by the praise bestowed on him by President Bush during the unveiling of the former president's portrait in the White House last week. (Those interested in grace notes accorded a former adversary, by the way, could do worse than look up the speech delivered by Clinton at the funeral of former President Nixon in 1994.)

Once upon a time, the concept of a loyal opposition was alive and well in this country. It is worth remembering and even reviving as we head into a general election campaign that is almost certain to turn bitter and divisive with attack ads, radio ravings, and generalized intolerant nonsense buffeting voters on all sides.

Mr. Clinton has told us, in several interviews so far, that he has a dark side and a high side and that both are faithfully attested to in his book. The American electorate is similarly conflicted. In dealing with our political figures, it is useful to remember the wise old Hindu saying concerning the best way of beholding anything and everything outside oneself: Omne padme um. "I am that."


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