What qualities make Bill Clinton attractive
February 24, 2007 4:41 AM   Subscribe

Why is Bill Clinton viewed as an inspiration to the world, whereas many other international politicians struggle to find the qualities that unite people?

This isn't a sales or politics askme, nor a USA blindside to the current state of affairs. So take with a grain of salt.

After traveling the world, I do find it rather amusing so many people identify one man as having their common goals and ambitions many years after his sphere of influence has dissipated.

His charm and charisma are legendary, but I am looking for the reasons. Is it a comforting word? Working knowledge? Or just down right say anything to anyone?
posted by Funmonkey1 to Human Relations (33 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Living in Britain, I've never met anyone who viewed Clinton as anything like an "inspiration to the world", although of course people recognise he had charisma. I think the idea of finding politicians inspirational would not be taken seriously here, with a couple of exceptions, like Churchill (though he's seen as a war leader rather than a normal politician) and perhaps William Wilberforce (who is respected but not universally known). You only have to compare Yes, Minister and The Thick of It with The West Wing to see the difference in attitudes.
posted by matthewr at 5:02 AM on February 24, 2007

I don't know anyone who views him that way.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 5:14 AM on February 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

I agree. I don't think people see Clinton as an inspiration to the world, but they do see him as an incredibly likable guy with plenty of charisma that helps him spruik causes and events.

I think one reason people like him so much nowadays is that compared to the current guy, the years of the Clinton administration seems so very, very nice.

Another reason was that during the years when he was President, Clinton never directly said no to anyone. That was one of his main problems, in my opinion, but the fact that he never said no to someone's proposal, be they rich or poor, but always said he would "give it some thought" or whatever made him seem like a politician who listened to everybody from all walks of life. This is as opposed to Bush who does, well, exactly the opposite, and is seen as a dick for doing it.

So I guess in short the answer to your question is; Clinton isn't Bush; that's what makes him attractive.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:16 AM on February 24, 2007

I agree with Effigy2000, but add that compared to the two previous presidents he appears a ray of light also. Much of the rest of the western world is, generally, to the left of the US. Clinton may appear as some liberal extremist to certian elements in the US, but from outside, in Britain, Australia etc. all but the harshest of conservatives would consider him pretty middle of the road. The only issue we know enough about to attack him on is a personal moral one, not a political one.

He also appeared to act pretty independently; with Bush, you know there's a team of guys back there pulling the strings. With Clinton, it felt like you were getting closer to his thoughts, not just some script triple-checked by a committee.
posted by Jimbob at 5:32 AM on February 24, 2007

He's the only recent President capable of producing fluent sentences of his own that actually mean what he wants them to mean.
posted by Phanx at 5:38 AM on February 24, 2007

Least shit US president I've experienced, yeah, but 'inspiration to the world'? No, I don't think so.

(..and I'm Australian, if it matters)
posted by pompomtom at 5:44 AM on February 24, 2007

Personally I like him because he's not a cretin, and seems like he'd be a good laugh down the pub. He seems very human. Exhibit A (youtube)
posted by Happy Dave at 5:49 AM on February 24, 2007

The New Yorker had a profile of Clinton a couple of months ago that seemed to cover what you are asking. He's a very smart guy who can see the big picture.
posted by TorontoSandy at 5:52 AM on February 24, 2007

He has a lot of charisma. He comes off as very charming in interviews. He also seems quite bright. He's very articulate. He does crosswords. What's not to like?
posted by chunking express at 5:58 AM on February 24, 2007

When I went to Ghana in 2002, you could get big hand painted portraits of Clinton, Bush, as well as several African leaders and pop culture icons, at roadside stands all over the place. People spoke highly of both Clinton and Bush, and in general, it seemed like the president of the US was admired because the US was admired. People spoke about the US as a role model, as a country and a people who were getting it right and knew what they were doing. Many Ghanaians that I met aspired to the democratic, industrial, and economic achievements of the US. The president (any president) was the most iconic symbol of the US.

When I returned in 2006, I didn't see any presidents at the road side stands. In general, I didn't find the same sentiment that the US was a role model. People were still very pro-US, but they were less effusive about the wonderful qualities of the US. My impression is that, in addition to seeing no presidential portraits, there were fewer American flags on taxicabs and less American memorabilia in general. I felt as though people were more measured in their attitude towards the US: they criticized some things while praising others, rather than giving the unconditional praise I'd noticed on my first trip.

These observations were casual (i.e. not part of my research) so I hesitate to draw strong conclusions from them. However, it does seem to me that presidents are symbols at least as much as they are individuals. Clinton was the symbol of a very successful America: peaceful (basically) and prosperous. During his presidency, America itself was an inspiration to the world and Clinton symbolized that inspiration.

Bush, on the other hand, is a symbol of a conflicted America: a tanking economy, an unpopular war, and problems that are large enough for the world to see (like Katrina). I think that the degree to which Bush stands for America is now less than the degree to which Clinton stood for America. People identify very personally with the peaceful, prosperous, world leader America, and since Bush no longer symbolizes that (he did early in his first term), they (may) return to the last symbol of that America as the one who exemplifies their common goals and ambitions.
posted by carmen at 6:32 AM on February 24, 2007

I wouldn't use "inspiration to the world" either, but last year I was in Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Italy & Austria... and people I met in every single country brought up that they liked him. My impression is that to people in other countries he represents the best image of American leadership (whereas GWB represents the absolute worst). BC came across as the closest thing to JFK... an attractive, smart, intelligent, respectful, hardworking & likeable American leader with an open mind. He didn't have a narrow view of things (or cultures) and was willing to work together with the world instead of that whole "you're with us or with the enemy" thing we have now. He was a good alpha dog... he came across as decisive yet also appeared willing to do whatever needed to be done to calmly work towards the right solutions for the best interest of ALL concerned (not just America).

Plus, he was hot for the chicks.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:44 AM on February 24, 2007

My man says he's pretty well-liked in India as well, whereas certain other presidents, not so much. That's been my experience--while "inspiration to the world" might be going a bit far, you can't say he's not better liked around the world than most other recent presidents.

I do think he's an inspiring speaker, and to me that means he's a combination of 1. a really talented public speaker, and 2. someone with whom I generally agree on most issues. I remember the last big DNC, I watched Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton speak. One has won a Nobel Peace Prize, but the other kept me glued to my TV.

Also, he was the last president before the current president, who, in addition to having rock-bottom numbers in his own country, is probably one of the most disliked presidents worldwide of all time. At least that's how it seems right now. So probably "the world" can't help but see Clinton as pretty wonderful in comparison.
posted by lampoil at 7:18 AM on February 24, 2007

He comes off as very comfortable in his own skin and his knowledge that he's probably as smart or smarter than anyone in the room at any given time allows him to come off as a reasonable man. He doesn't lead from paranoia and fear and those are two of the most egregious qualities a leader could possess. As far as inspirational - Clinton always fell just short of that and it was the most frustrating thing about his presidency. He never used his charm and popularity to do any great things. His tenure was at best check on Republican wantoness and at worst he rolled out the red carpet for current corporate fascism we now live under.

As a side note: Does anyone find it troubling that there is not a single national leader in power right now in the world scene that one can point to as a source of inspired enlightened thought?
posted by any major dude at 7:36 AM on February 24, 2007

I think his general like-ability worldwide has to do with his "big-picture" worldview of inclusion...as opposed to the "you're either with us or agin' us" worldview of the current regime.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:39 AM on February 24, 2007

I think part of it is that he managed to convey a sense of genuine empathy. "I feel your pain" became an instant cliche, but he said it, and he made people feel that he meant it. I think it counted (and counts) for a lot for many people, especially by comparison to the hopelessly out of touch Bush Sr. (famously astonished to see a laser price code scanner at a supermarket) and the willfully indifferent, who-gives-a-fuck-about-you Bush Jr.
posted by Zonker at 7:42 AM on February 24, 2007

Clinton is well liked in Canada, as President of the USA he spoke in Quebec and basically told the seperatists that a new Quebec government would have to build a new relationship with the USA and that an Independant Quebec wouldn't necessarily be entitled to the things Canada gets from the USA now. Canadian politicans tend to deal with seperatists in the most vague and politically correct terms, and this was viewed as a refreshingly straightforward position. In some circles this frank position was considered a major buzzkill and the seperatists only lost the sucession vote by a small amount.

The Clinton sex scandal didn't register much outrage at all. Bush was instantly disliked even before Guf War 2 - I think Bush would be unelectable in the rest of the Anglosphere.
posted by Deep Dish at 7:59 AM on February 24, 2007

On a slightly different note, Bill Clinton once sat in arguably the most powerful seat in the world, smoking a cigar while a pretty young intern serviced him from under the desk.

I don't know any males that image doesn't connect with at some level. It's illicit, and powerful, and touches something very deep in the male psyche.
posted by tkolar at 8:16 AM on February 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

While the backstory of politicians is often soft-focus, Clinton was the poor kid who ended up president. When he came to Oxford to get his honorary degree, I waited an hour to see him stroll to the Bodleian (playing spot-the-Secret Service to pass the time). When Chelsea came to study, a friend bumped into him with her at Blackwell's, and he was utterly charming. When the Starr Report came out, I was more interested in the description of him working all-nighters on policy than the prurient stuff.

I like saying that Clinton and the Clinton years helped remind people around the world of the things they like about the US and the American character as projected to the world, while the years after have accentuated the, um, negative bits.

Inspirational? Nah. Nelson Mandela was inspirational. When Clinton speaks on an issue, you get the feeling that even if you disagree with what he says, he's saying it because he's thought hard about it, done the research, expressed it in a way that won't offend you, and would be prepared to argue the case with dozens of examples for another three hours. To me, there's still something of the poor kid made good, the student with the permanent sense of vulnerable overachievement, who knows that the only thing that keeps him there is his own capabilities to persuade you.
posted by holgate at 8:34 AM on February 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't know any males that image doesn't connect with at some level. It's illicit, and powerful, and touches something very deep in the male psyche.

I'm going to take that in a different direction, and speculate that Clinton fits in the space that distinguishes Kinsey 1 people from Kinsey 0s.
posted by holgate at 8:39 AM on February 24, 2007

It might be worthwhile to to ask yourself whether people were exressing admiration for Clinton as a person or as a president. Clinton's foreign policy wasn't very different from that seen in previous administrations. He enforced the sanctions against Iraq, bombed the medicine factory in Sudan, supported the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, and so forth; plenty of stuff there to generate ill will in just about every corner of the globe. On the other hand he did indeed come across on television as a likeable guy. So perhaps they disliked his policies while liking him as a person.

This, incidentally, is a very common phenomenon. There were a lot more people who liked Reagan than who agreed with his policies. And plenty of people who opposed the Viet Nam War still have considerable affection for JFK.

Another possibility: they may have liked some of his rhetoric, thinking or hoping that it would actually lead to policy changes. For example, during the 92 election, I remember him talking a lot about this system of micro-credit that was showing promise in the third world. Someone would loan one person money to start a small business and then, once that person became successful, he'd loan to another person, and so on. I don't recall hearing anything about the US supporting such things after Clinton was elected, but it's possible that some people outside the US (and probably some inside the US too), felt that a viable presidential candidate publically discussing practical, possible solutions to poverty in the third world was a major step forward.

Finally, don't discount the power of propaganda. There's plenty of money and media out there devoted to perpetuating a certain image of American leaders. Time and Newsweek liked Clinton quite a bit, so any country where they had a sizeable readership or a significant influence on the local/regional media probably heard quite a bit about what a great guy he was.
posted by Clay201 at 8:44 AM on February 24, 2007

Best answer: I think you have to differentiate the man from his politics. I have not and would not vote for a Clinton, but I have met the President at least three times. He lives near me. He is very friendly and very good at asking about you and relating whatever he is talking about to the people with whom he is speaking. If he wasn't such a politico and attention monger (not just him but all people who are willing to run for president) you would definitely want to hang out and have a beer with him. My kids, around 4, 5 and 6 were eating ice cream outside in town. My wife and I were distracted and talking to some friends. I heard the distinctive voice that I had come to recognize from TV. I turned and there was the President with his Secret Service detail right behind him talking to my kids asking them where they got the ice cream. They pointed to the place. The President asked if they would hold Buddy's leash (a Secret Service agent actually did the holding) for a second while he went inside to get ice cream. (Pre heart problem days.) He came out 3 minutes later and talked to us for 5 minutes while he ate his ice cream. I remember thinking that as President of the United States, he had to have better things to do than eat ice cream and talk to young children on the street. (Then I realized that there really is nothing more pressing than eating ice cream.) He answered my daughter's question, "Do you like being the President?" with, "Yes, because I get to meet such great kids like you and your brothers. I get to solve problems and meet so many people. I have made so many friends."

He is just a people person and I think that comes across to people when they meet him or even when they see him on TV. (Fwiw, Hilary is not as open and friendly as Bill. Maybe because he had run and won his last election while she is still the guarded candidate. My daughter and wife ran into Chelsea in a clothing store and said she was extremely patient with the attention she was getting. Chelsea signed an autograph for my daughter in crayon on the back of daughter's first 1st grade math homework.)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:18 AM on February 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

In addiiton to the above, he's always struck me as a reasonable guy. With Clinton you never got the impression he was out for world domination or trying to remake society or start a revolution. He seemed to just want to keep the world ticking over peacefully so regular people could go about their lives. While I certainly didn't agree with everything he did it was very reassuring knowing that he was in charge.
posted by fshgrl at 9:58 AM on February 24, 2007

I've never heard of him being described as such, as mentioned above.

In fact, most people who don't have a sterling hatred of Bush see him as just another ho-hum average president, in my experience.
posted by Willie0248 at 10:27 AM on February 24, 2007

A small part of it, I think: I was in Italy during the Starr investigation. A great many Italians seemed to sympathize with Clinton and framed the investigation as a great guy getting hounded by American puritanism; there was a sense that by rooting for him, they were rooting for every guy ever hounded by a jealous wife, and by mocking Starr, they were mocking the entire strain of American thought that sees sex as dirty and beautiful bodies as shameful (in other words, the hordes of overweight American tourists wearing ugly clothing who tromp through their museums out of duty rather than awe).

There was definitely a sense of Clinton being "European" in that way, sophisticated and worldly, and the Starr thing gave Italians (and I think most Europeans) a lot of ways to feel allied with him. Mitterrand's funeral, which both his wife and his mistress and all their various children attended, happened right about that time, and there was much contrasting of "laidback European worldliness" with "tyrannical American puritanism and denial."

(I was also talking to someone who's bumped into tons of celebrities and politicians in person, and he said the only two people he's met who made you feel like the room had fallen away and you were the only two people on earth were George Clooney and Bill Clinton.)
posted by occhiblu at 10:38 AM on February 24, 2007

There were a lot more people who liked Reagan than who agreed with his policies.

I saw Reagan at Oxford too, in 1993, and while I can barely think of a political issue where I'd agree with him, he carried an aura of gravitas even in his obviously declining years. Quite different to that of Clinton, though: more aloof, and the beneficiary of a few years' distance from his time in office.
posted by holgate at 10:55 AM on February 24, 2007

Bush Sr. (famously astonished to see a laser price code scanner at a supermarket)

the story's famous but seems to be false.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 12:02 PM on February 24, 2007

Clinton seemed more likely to work with or allies and the world at large, than the current Pres. who, it seems, would like to alienate them
posted by UncleHornHead at 12:12 PM on February 24, 2007

So holgate, are you saying that one has to be a little gay to like Clinton? Because it seems unlikely at best.
posted by oats at 4:59 PM on February 24, 2007

I think you need to read the book Primary Colors, a thinly veiled, thinly fictionalized account of working for Clinton's first presidential campaign.

It very much outlined the "why do we like him so much, when he has such obvious flaws" question.
posted by frogan at 6:36 PM on February 24, 2007

The guy survived marriage to the biggest bitch on the planet, he got tons of blowjobs from super hot chicks, he loves everyone and everyone outside the ditto-dickheads loves him back, he came in to a mess and left with the largest surplus of cash of any president that I can recall.

He really tried to help 'the common man' though he wasn't able to pull it off - remember him and Hil trying to make health care happen for you and for me, early on?

He adamantly refused the neo-cons - they approached him twice with their horses ass plans for world domination (PNAC, anyone?), he saw them and showed them the door.

He was everyones brother, he never saw himself as larger or better than anyone else (um, maybe Gore), just smarter and better married in a sad way.

If he's seen as decent and helpful outside of the states, it's got to be that people can see that he'd help anyone he can. And this in direct comparison to the douchebag who's followed him, universally hated and feared because of his willingness to kill hundreds of thousands for oil cronyism, hated for his lies and crimes and stunning stupidity.
posted by dancestoblue at 8:24 PM on February 24, 2007

So holgate, are you saying that one has to be a little gay to like Clinton? Because it seems unlikely at best.

No, I was just taking slight issue with tkolar's cigar-desk-intern image, and it's supposed universal connection with the male psyche. Just because if you were the one sitting at that desk, you still wouldn't be Bill Clinton.
posted by holgate at 4:33 AM on February 25, 2007

(I was also talking to someone who's bumped into tons of celebrities and politicians in person, and he said the only two people he's met who made you feel like the room had fallen away and you were the only two people on earth were George Clooney and Bill Clinton.)

My best friend was for years the bodyguard and driver of an elected official here in NYC and says the same of Bill Clinton: that he is absolutely magnetic and focuses completely on you when you talk, giving you the sense that he truly wants to know your concerns. My friend says the only other politician he's met who conveys the same sense of involvement - who when told "don't waste time talking to me, I'm just her bodyguard" smiled and said "I know who you are" - is Barack Obama.
posted by nicwolff at 9:17 AM on February 25, 2007 [4 favorites]

Does anyone find it troubling that there is not a single national leader in power right now in the world scene that one can point to as a source of inspired enlightened thought?

Dalai Lama?

Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck?
posted by wilful at 4:30 PM on February 25, 2007

« Older Yikes! Just found out my new apt. won't be free...   |   Antidepressant side effects? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.