Bill Clinton in the hospital

In the fall of 1991, just after he had formally announced his run for the presidency, Bill Clinton made a series of three policy speeches at this alma mater, Georgetown University. I read the first two of them and -- with my wife, and her sister visiting from overseas -- went in person to hear the third, about Clinton's plans for foreign policy. We were brought by friends to say hello to Clinton in the "green room" just before he went on stage: My clearest memory is the millisecond flash through his eyes, with the unspoken thought "can't I get ONE SECOND's peace while I am cramming for this big speech???" -- replaced even before it registered with a big radiant smile and welcoming hand.

What struck me most powerfully about the speech (text here), at the time and in retrospect, was not its policy-prescriptions but the generational tone Clinton took toward the mainly-student audience. I represent a grizzled and events-battered tribe, he said in the Q-and-A period. I know my time is limited; we need to build a better world for you young people. It's not the "better world" part I noticed; it was the "you young people" part. He was at the time 45 years old, about to become the second-youngest elected president in history. But his tone was of a man aware of the finite time ahead.

Elected to all his offices young, elevated young, humbled in various ways young -- Bill Clinton has nonetheless struck this "it's later than you think" tone through all of his public life. At this time of night and just off a plane, I don't pretend to know why. Maybe it's deliberate. Maybe it's unconscious. Maybe he knows -- or senses -- something about his heritage and prospects. Maybe he just is larger and faster than the rest of us in all ways.  He has been noticeably autumnal even in his vernal days. Get well soon.