The good news for Bush is that, unlike Jimmy Carter, Clinton isn't exactly poised to generate positive post-presidency buzz. Instead, the bulk of the media attention will be tightly focused on Clinton's legal travails, which, instead of fading into the sunset as he might have hoped, are actually alive and well and living in the nation's capital. Independent counsel Robert Ray, who recently arranged to re-interview Monica Lewinsky, will reportedly decide whether to pursue an indictment against Clinton "very shortly" after the President leaves office.
Of course, it may not be as simple as Ray's deciding whether or not to go ahead: Ray's continuing investigation creates a complex (and very Clintonian) triangle of power, stretching from Ray himself to Bush and the GOP back to Clinton.
What is emerging is a political chess game: Already, some in the GOP, no doubt concerned at the specter of Clinton continuing to dominate the Washington landscape, are urging Bush to consider a pardon. "I would pardon [Clinton]," Republican senator Orrin Hatch told Fox News Sunday. "I think it's time to put this to bed." And while the senator's interest in a pardon is likely based in political self-interest how better, after all, to finally clear Clinton from the national radar his message is not easily ignored. (Hatch to Ray: The GOP has lost its bloodlust for Clinton. Drop this thing and get him the heck out of here.) And while the President-elect is not rushing to say that he would issue a pardon, he pointedly hasn't ruled it out, either something he no doubt hopes lends him some power over his predecessor.
Clinton, meanwhile, is comfortably ensconced in the catbird seat: He knows that a pardon, or his embrace of such an idea, would only fuel continuing doubts about his innocence. Far better, from his vantage point, to let the GOP do his work for him so he's stubbornly refusing to consider such a possibility, insisting instead that he will fight every charge and eventually prove his innocence. And that promise, of course, raises the scenario that makes Republicans cringe: A wildly popular ex-president with plenty of time on his hands dusting off the old law books and planting his righteous cause all over the front pages of the country's newspapers and magazines.
Clinton would be back in the spotlight again, in other words, resurrecting precisely the type of public relations derring-do that frustrated so many of his foes over the last eight years. And now, much to the dismay of the GOP, just as the second Teflon president prepares to be yanked off the national stage, he's not riding off quietly into the sunset, as so many Republicans had hoped.