Ronald Reagan was called the "Great Communicator." Bill Clinton should go down in history as the "Great Co-opter." I can’t count the times I’ve seen various constituency leaders charge into the White House like roaring lions and saunter out as purring kittens: "He really listened." "I think he understands us."
"You know, I think the president is on our side." The trouble is, another constituency with the opposing view meets with the president a few hours later and walks out of the White House feeling the very same way.
Of course most politicians are the same, with some notable exceptions. But Bill Clinton has taken political shmoozing to a new level and transformed the politician’s back-slapping and baby-kissing into an art form. Take, for instance, his political fund raising. Of course, all presidents spend good chunks of their time raising money, but none have been quite as crass and sleazy about campaign financing as this first president from my generation. Sometimes, I think my problem is that this guy just embarrasses me.
I’m even more embarrassed at how many leaders of religious and moral causes sidle up to Bill Clinton. What does he stand for that persuades people who really do stand for faith, justice, or compassion to trust him? Actually, it’s not what Bill Clinton stands for that makes people like and trust him, it’s about sitting—sitting down with them and everybody else is how this president wins people over. He’ll write you notes; he’ll call— it’s amazing how many people report that Clinton calls them "every few weeks"—he’ll have you over to the White House; he’ll ask your advice. Mostly, he will make you feel listened to and special—you and most of the population (or, at least, their key constituency leaders).