Clinton's Solo Night
Golf Raises Image Of
Personal Frustration
By Ben MacIntyre
In Washington
A strange, solitary figure could be seen on the Army and Navy Country Club golf course outside Washington on Sunday night, whacking ball after ball into the pitch darkness as the rain poured down.
It was Bill Clinton, inadvertently offering the stark image of an increasingly isolated and frustrated President heading towards the end of his second term, his temper rising and his power waning.
Dusk was already gathering when he suddenly announced that he was going to play golf, alone, and for two and a half hours he worked his way around the sodden course, deserted save for his Secret Service detail and a handful of damp journalists.
"He was playing in the pitch dark," one reporter said. "He was swinging and wildly hitting balls everywhere."
Mr Clinton's obsession with golf is well known, but his eccentric solo session has inevitably invited speculation about his state of mind in the twilight of his presidency. "It was odd. It was strange," one White House official was quoted as saying.
With just over a year of his last term remaining, Mr Clinton is having to cede the political spotlight to his would-be successor, Al Gore, and to his wife, while his ambitions for his own legacy have become bogged down in partisan politics and bitter budget wrangling. Recently Mr Clinton has taken to public bouts of introspection, and by his own admission the presidential temper is starting to fray.
"Some days I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, in a foul humour," he told an audience earlier this month. "It has occurred to me really that every one of us has this little scale inside . . . on one side there's the light forces and on the other side there's the dark forces in our psyche.
"Life is a big struggle to try to keep things in proper balance," he added.
Mr Clinton's darker side was on full display last week after the Senate rejected the treaty banning nuclear tests that he had planned as the centrepiece of his foreign policy.
Mr Clinton lambasted Republican senators for what he called their "reckless partisanship" and "isolationism". And the Senate is not alone in feeling the rough edge of the presidential tongue.
In the past few weeks he has been heard to lash out at his conservative enemies, unsympathetic media and even the FBI. Earlier this month, at a White House picnic, one reporter for Investor's Daily found himself in a slanging match with Mr Clinton, who then gave instructions that the journalist be banned from all such functions in the future.
Mr Clinton's frustration was also evident recently when he reflected on the stalled peace process in Northern Ireland and compared the opposing sides in the conflict to drunks addicted to violence.
The President's periodic bursts of ill humour may be partly attributable to disappointment with the campaign being run by his Vice-President, whose election Mr Clinton sees as crucial to preserving his own place in history.
He has been vociferous in his support of Mr Gore, but last weekend the front-runner for the Democratic nomination clearly hinted that he might forgo Mr Clinton's help. Many voters see Mr Gore as tainted by the scandals of the Clinton presidency.
The President is also said to be finding it hard to adjust to playing second fiddle to the political ambitions of Hillary Clinton. While he jokes about joining the "Senate spouses club", associates say he feels more than a twinge of envy that his political career is winding down, unglamorously, at a moment when hers may just be taking off.
Some associates say Mr Clinton is still determined to leave an imprint from his final year in office and is gearing up for a battle over spending with Republicans in Congress. "He's been in great spirits and he has lots of fight," Terence McAuliffe, a Democratic fund-raiser and Clinton confidant, told The Washington Post.
But Mr Clinton's public comments have taken on a mournful, valedictory tone, and his introductions to White House visitors now tend to start with the formula "as our time here draws to a close".
On a recent trip to New York a park guide joked that the President could always get a job with the National Park Service. "I can work cheap, I've got a good pension," Mr Clinton replied.
But White House insiders say that for all the jocularity, the future is weighing heavily on his mind.
But the only thing that Mr Clinton has stated with absolute certainty about his plans after leaving the White House is that they will involve a large amount of golf.
When he climbed, dripping, into his limousine after Sunday's impromptu and solitary round of golf, his aides declined to say what he had scored. Perhaps he was not even counting.