Is Hillary the Sorcerer's Apprentice?

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How lasting is the damage to the Clintons?

There's something hilarious about even asking. Clinton has lived his entire political life on the model of death-and-resurrection. He wraps himself in chains and padlocks, has himself sealed into a trunk and thrown off the Tallahatchee Bridge; the bubbles rise, the minutes pass, the crowd waits, breathless.... until, at last, up pops Bill, bright as a dime, the Houdini from Hope. The real question is whether Hillary partakes of the magic in her own right.

It's been almost tiresome to keep watching Virginia Kelley's darling's carnival act of a son rising from the dead — from the Arkansas gubernatorial defeat; from the long-winded disaster of his debut at the 1988 Democratic convention; from Didn't Inhale and Dodged the Draft; from Gennifer Flowers just before the New Hampshire primary in 1992; from the 1994 Gingrich apocalypse; from Whitewater and Paula Jones and Juanita Broaddrick's plausible accusation of rape; from Monica Lewinsky; from his criminal wag-the-dog attack on the Khartoum pharmaceuticals factory; from impeachment, yet!

He bobs to the surface every time, smirking, a little flushed. The dogs bark, the caravan moves on.

So as we listen to the dogs howling at the Clintons now — baying and frothing at the mouth, the pack joined even by the Washington Post and the New York Times — we are conditioned by experience to expect that the nation, inured to Clinton's irrepressible shamelessness, will have the boyish monster on its hands and on its tax bills for years and years.

You can make an interesting political career out of having a bright side and a dark side. It was said that the bright prince, John Kennedy, was Clinton's hero. Clinton is also the dark prince, Richard Nixon. Kennedy died and stayed dead. Nixon was the real Comeback Kid. Add a touch of Lyndon Johnson to Clinton's character — not the tragic, Lear-like LBJ, but the shrewd cornpone conniver, the genius politician — and finish the picture off with a quantity of Flem Snopes. There you have him, the Kingfish from Hot Springs, as gaudy and complicated as Americans get.

When Bill was a boy, his mother installed him in the master bedroom of the house, while she and Bill's feckless stepfather took the guest room. The $750,000-a-year Carnegie Hall Tower penthouse office suite with views of Central Park involves the same droit de junior. It's an Arkansas Nero effect. When the Emperor Nero entered his Golden House for the first time, he inspected the statue of himself, 120 feet high; he admired the enclosed lake, the pillared arcade that stretched for a mile, the dining rooms paved with porphyry, and ceilings of gold and fretted ivory inlaid with jewels. Nero said: "At last, I am beginning to live like a human being!"

Or maybe the reason Clinton demands the penthouse is his curious sibling rivalry with his wife. How could he stand to have Hillary advancing in glory while he receded? How will the bizarre dynamic of the Clinton marriage express itself now that she's the one in power? Clinton's a marvel of the age. But is Hillary? No one could be married to Bill Clinton for so many years without certain survival skills. But mere endurance is not enough. Watching the Clintons march on, and on, and on is an existential experience. There has not been a couple quite so tedious and ghastly since Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.