Clinton and Jordan: Great Jerks
Bill Clinton is joining Gavin Newsom’s campaign for governor of California in what Michael Finnegan argues is payback for Jerry Brown’s snub way back in 1992.
Seventeen years after fellow Democrats Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown clashed in the 1992 race for the White House, the former president made clear today that bygones will not be bygones in the 2010 campaign for California governor: Clinton signed on today to support Brown rival Gavin Newsom in the Democratic primary next year. Newsom is the current mayor of San Francisco.
It is highly unusual — perhaps unprecedented, according to the mayor’s campaign — for a former president to take sides in a California gubernatorial primary. Sitting chief executives and former ones usually like to wait for the intraparty bleeding to stop before endorsing.
Tensions in the 1992 race for the Democratic presidential nomination peaked at a debate in Chicago, where Brown accused Clinton of “funneling money to his wife’s law firm for state business.” That set off Clinton. “I don’t care what you say about me, but you ought to be ashamed of yourself for jumping on my wife,” he snapped, shaking his finger at Brown. “You’re not worth being on the same platform as my wife.”
I’m reminded of this weekend’s hubbub around Michael Jordan’s decidedly ungracious Hall of Fame induction speech, which he used to vent every slight, real or imagined, he’d suffered since high school. One would think winning would be vindication enough to salve those old wounds but, for Clinton and Jordan, it apparently isn’t. Michael Wilbon has the best line on that one:
My reaction was to be surprised at the reaction of people who were so stunned. What did they think separated Jordan from merely great athletes? Almost certainly it was the controlled rage with which he played every single night of his life and probably 90 percent of the practices in which he participated. A less ruthless Jordan would have been, well, Clyde Drexler.
Now, Drexler was a great, great player. But he’s not one of four or five people in the discussion for greatest baller of all time. Jordan is — usually as the favorite.
I’ve never been more than a casual fan of basketball, and have followed great players rather than picking a team. I gravitated towards Julius “Dr. J” Irving toward the end of his career, then Larry Bird, and then Jordan. And, really, nobody since. (I appreciate LeBron James’ gifts but have less sports-watching time these days.) Despite being clean cut, articulate, and funny, Jordan frequently displayed a jerkish quality, even — perhaps especially — to his teammates.
Conversely, I was never a fan of Bill Clinton’s, seeing in him a snake oil salesman quality long before the Monica Lewinsky scandal. But one can’t be a political junkie and not admire his talents. And, certainly, his up-from-nothing story, elected as the youngest governor in the country at 32 and president at 46, is simply remarkable.
It’s possible that a less ruthless Clinton would have been, well, Jerry Brown.