---- — Former President Bill Clinton is justifiably known for his political and psychological resilience. Not for nothing is he known as the Comeback Kid.
But what happened this week at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York would have sent a lesser man crashing to the floor of the Sheraton Hotel ballroom with a severe case of historical whiplash.
Clinton, whom the GOP strove mightily to evict from office, is being favorably invoked, even courted, by Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee.
Standing by the former president’s side, Romney said, “If there’s one thing we’ve learned in this election season, by the way, is that a few words from Bill Clinton can do a man a lot of good.”
He was referring to Clinton’s speech in support of President Barack Obama at the Democratic convention, which resulted in a slight boost — a “bounce,” in political parlance — in the polls.
Joked Romney, “All I got to do now is wait a few days for that bounce to happen.”
Such comments from a leading Republican would have been unimaginable 13 and 14 years ago, when congressional Republicans were striving mightily to drive Bill Clinton from office. Thanks to their efforts, he became only the second U.S. president, after Andrew Johnson, to be impeached.
The House, after a four-year investigation by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, impeached Clinton on two charges, perjury and obstruction of justice, in connection with Paula Jones and, more notoriously, Monica Lewinsky.
The votes, on Dec. 19, 1998, were almost strictly party line, 228 to 206 for perjury and 221 to 212 on obstruction. The charges then went to the Senate, where 13 House “managers” in wearily repetitive iteration of the charges over three days presented their case to an increasingly bored and irritated Senate.
The Senate acquitted Clinton on Feb. 12, 1999, with 50 senators voting guilty on obstruction and 45 on perjury, well short of the 67 votes needed to remove him from office. No Democrat voted for conviction and several Republicans joined them.
Then as now, it was a time of bitter partisanship by House Republicans who found not charge too outlandish or outrageous to hurl at the president. To be fair, the Clintons gave them lots of ammunition with Travelgate, Chinagate, Hillary Clinton’s missing billing records, Bill Clinton’s womanizing, treating top donors to use of the Lincoln Bedroom and, as the president left the White House, a clutch of what seemed to be politically motivated pardons.
In spite of the prevailing nastiness, Clinton and the Republicans were able to enact welfare reform, balance the budget and enjoy several years of budget surpluses.
Now Clinton has come back once again -- to re-elect Obama. Notice that, unlike during the debates early this year, Romney didn’t offer to make a $10,000 bet on the outcome.
Dale McFeatters writes for the Scripps Howard News Service