His second point was that it was also legitimate to discuss various means of conducting a war, including working through the United Nations. But—point three—it was important to raise questions "in the context of this serious problem we face from Iraq."
"Al and I, we had endless conversations about Iraq," Clinton said, somewhat seigneurlike. "Al Gore has a good, clear, unambiguous record of being strong on the importance of trying to contain Saddam Hussein and dealing with his chemical and biological weapons. So if he said what I think he said, I think it's fine."
Clinton then began to talk more directly about American domestic politics. His very existence poses a dilemma for the Democratic Party. On the one hand, he is still the best explainer, fundraiser, and campaigner the party has. During his speech at the Labour Party conference Clinton made the case against the Bush Administration's economic policies more effectively than any congressional Democrat has dared or managed to do.
On the other hand, Clinton's power seems strangely nontransferable. He could get himself elected, even after working himself into terrible binds. But compared with, say, Ronald Reagan, he has not had tremendous coattails—for his Vice President, for candidates in the House or the Senate, for his party nationwide. So arguments swirl among Democrats at all levels about where Clinton, like some sixteen-inch gun on the battleship Missouri, should be deployed. Should he speak more in public? Should he stick to a backstage role? Can he teach others what he knows?
The Democrats are gravitating back toward Clinton's original slogan, "It's the economy, stupid," and they realize that Clinton might help to bring attention to the issue. Robert Rubin, Clinton's Secretary of the Treasury, told me that over the next year and a half the basic premises of economic policy should come up for debate, especially "fiscal discipline"—that is, controlling budget deficits. "The people who want tax cuts can't justify them if they're also concerned about fiscal rectitude," Rubin said. "So they'll have to say that fiscal discipline doesn't matter. In my view, that's nonsensical—and at odds with virtually all mainstream economic thinking—but it's the only thing they can say." Clinton could be "enormously effective" in making the fiscal argument, Rubin said— if he could find an "appropriate" way to re-enter the debate.
Some of Clinton's associates think that the only appropriate forum would be something august and nonpartisan, such as a university or a blue-ribbon commission. Others say to hell with augustness, get back into the fray. There was never a serious chance that Clinton would undertake a daily daytime talk show, on the Oprah model, because of its confining schedule. But some activists have tried to sell him on a weekly or monthly prime-time talk show, which would position Clinton as a hybrid of Ted Koppel, Bill Moyers, and FDR.