It was a rough week for the former president. Returning to the public eye, he had his White House adulteries thrown in his face.
No, not Bill Clinton. I mean JFK. The poor man was, as has been his wont since 1963, resting in peace when Clinton decided to tread upon his grave.
Clinton was out on a book tour and likely wished that he was being interviewed by Matt Lauer, formerly of the Today show. Or perhaps over at the CBS morning equivalent by Charlie Rose. Or perhaps at some swanky Hollywood gala hosted by Clinton support Harvey Weinstein where he might have had a public conversation with Kevin Spacey who, inter alia, does a spot-on Clinton impression.
Alas for Clinton, Lauer and Rose and Weinstein and Spacey are not available for the celebrity interview circuit anymore. Indeed, Bill is remarkably the only man standing after the #MeToo tsunami washed over American public life. Countless men who have been at least beastly, if not criminal, toward women are now personae non gratae in polite society. But somehow Clinton continues on, the nation’s most prominent sexual harasser and alleged rapist.
The Kennedys were back in the news as the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy was observed. But JFK’s biggest mention this week came in the interview given by Bill Clinton, in which he defended his behaviour in the Lewinsky affair by pointing out that JFK was worse: “Should JFK have resigned?”
Indeed, Clinton’s astonishing performance reached backward and forward to argue that as bad as he himself was, others were more so. Hence the implicit reference to JFK’s multiple adulteries in the White House, and the explicit reference to the multiple accusations against Donald Trump of sexual harassment and infidelities.
Clinton’s defence of his position in the rogue’s gallery is that he may be a rogue, but by golly, it is a gallery. I may be bad, but not as bad as the other guys.
Which, on Ontario’s election day, might just be the perfect summation of the recent campaign. Andrew Coyne this morning expertly summarized the doleful state of politics in Canada’s largest province.
Yet it is not a unique Ontario problem. Doug Ford is no Bill Davis, but all over the world there is dramatic lack of leaders equal to their task.
As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gathers the G7 at a grand Fairmont hotel in Quebec – Le Manoir Richelieu in Charlevoix – it brings to mind the 1981 G7 when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau hosted the G7 at a grand Fairmont hotel in Quebec – Le Château Montebello, just an hour or so down the Ottawa River from Parliament.
It’s a long way down from Trudeau the Elder to Trudeau the Younger, in terms of vision, stature and experience. And while the Elder looked around the table at Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, François Mitterand and Helmut Schmidt, the Younger will have Donald Trump, Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel for interlocutors. Setting aside policy positions, only Merkel might be qualified to have had an invitation to the adults’ table back in 1981.
It is true that great crises call forth great leaders, as World War called forth FDR, Charles de Gaulle and Churchill, likely the most important world leader of the first half of the twentieth century. Likewise, the long existential struggle against communism gave rise in part to St. John Paul II, the most important leader of the second half of the same century.
The end of the Cold War meant that it was safe to entrust leadership to the B – or even C – team. Democracies seem to know when it is safe to do so, as in 1945 the Brits elected Clement Atlee to replace Churchill, and in 1992 the Americans opted for Bill Clinton and the Brits went for John Major. Churchill dismissed Atlee as the “sheep in sheep’s clothing,” something that might be too high a compliment for those gathering this week at Manoir Le Richelieu.
Crises, though, are gathering, not on the level of the great wars, but nevertheless a greater quality of leadership is required. Just as Ontario has the highest level of debt of any sub-sovereign level of government in the world, and faces a suite of leaders completely inadequate to the task at hand, so the international order is fraying, being stressed by centrifugal forces, and the G7 gang is not equal to the challenge.
Canada is suffering from a national unity crisis over the federal government’s inability to get a private sector pipeline built. Britain has a prime minister who is utterly flummoxed by Brexit with no clear path to seeing it through. Italy got a new government this week which, for the first time, is a coalition of two parties opposed to the European Union, of which Italy was a founding member. Germany’s chancellor is attempting to deal with a refugee crisis of her own making. America’s president himself is a crisis of his own making.
And so as Syria burns (as a deliberate policy of its own government) and Venezuela starves (as a deliberate policy of its own government) and Ukraine is invaded (as a deliberate policy of its neighbour) the leadership of the world does nothing. Even if they had the will, they lack entirely the gravitas to effect any significant change.
Nearby the Manoir Le Richelieu is Le Massif, an attraction for both skiers and hikers. I doubt the G7 group photo will be taken there, but it would be fitting, the assembled leaders completely overwhelmed by their circumstances.
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