THE PATH OF THE POST-PRESIDENT

Bill Clinton may not save the world, but he may have an easier time trying now than he ever did as president. During a time when the determination of private individuals can often outweigh the influences of government, Clinton intimated to a sold out Arlington Theatre crowd on October 13 that now is the best opportunity to take on challenging global issues.

“There will always be a gap between where we are and where we ought to be,” Clinton said to an audience of more than 2,000 people. “Today, private citizens have a better opportunity to do good than the public. Those of us with the means to do it and the time to do it have the advantage.”

In the private sector, no one has a bigger advantage than Clinton. Six years removed from a two-term presidency, he still wields great executive power, or as Clinton calls it, “the bang factor.” He lives the life of an American president, dashing across the world in private jets funded by well-heeled donors of his William J. Clinton Foundation, a large entourage of aides and secret service agents always at his side. One day he’s at the World Cup a few seats away from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A couple days later, he steps off a plane in Africa greeted warmly by Nelson Mandela.

This may explain why wealthy individuals give their money to Clinton believing he can do a lot more with it than they can. Kinko’s founder and Montecito resident Paul Orfalea, who joined Clinton at the Arlington for a discussion on global issues, committed $400,000 from his Family Foundation to the Clinton Global Initiative.

What may really describe the success of Clinton’s post-presidency is that he isn’t president anymore. His shareholders are no longer American taxpayers, but rather donors, whom as he puts it, “have to be able to tolerate some failure just as long as they know the money is being spent for the intended reasons.” Clinton doesn’t have to answer to a republican Congress and no longer are his personal travails held under a media microscope.

“I think the presidency was a heavy burden for him to bear and he made some mistakes,” says Steven Crandell, who with Montecito dad Larry Crandell works with several local non-profits. “But now he’s working for things for which there’s not much controversy – should people have adequate health care, should we fight AIDS in Africa? He’s inspiring people to make change for the better.”

As time distances Clinton from the White House, observers see his popularity, already sizable among liberals, growing by the minute. “There’s still vestigial anger amongst conservatives against him, but I think that we’re about to see that start to fade, much like liberal anger towards Nixon faded many years after Nixon was president,” says the Montecito columnist, Stephen Murdoch, who attended the discussion. “So I don’t think he’s yet more popular than when he was president, but I think we’re going to get there very soon.”

Despite Clinton’s fundraising prowess and his commitment to global causes – to health care, climate change and energy and poverty alleviation – Murdoch cautions against thinking that his influence will ever exceed that of the presidency.

“The levers of power are far too great in the White House,” Murdoch says. “But I think he’s doing great things, reaching global and all his work in Africa. He’s doing a lot, especially compared to the other ex-presidents.”

Others, though, question whether Clinton is doing more outside the Oval Office than his predecessors. Building presidential libraries, writing voluminous autobiographies and doing vigorous work on global causes are all activities confined to modern ex-commanders-in-chief. George H. W. Bush’s collaboration with Clinton in 2005 on the tsunami relief campaign is one example.

“I think most presidents are out there after the White House,” Tom Mielko, the artist and Montecito resident, said just before walking into the Clinton event. “Jimmy Carter was one of them. Whether you liked his politics or not, he seemed to be focused on lots of causes.”

One truth, though, is clear: Whatever Clinton does choose to do as an ex-president, he has an abundance of time. At 60, he’s still 17 years younger than Ronald Reagan was the day he left office.

He has time to build on his already outsized appeal with democrats, time to wane the sustaining resentments of conservatives and time to gain a fan base of college-aged followers who were all too young to vote when Clinton ran twice in the ‘90s.

At the Arlington Theatre, before an audience that included 600 UCSB students, Clinton seemed to earn a lot of capital with his charisma and, as the moderator of the event, Montecito resident Thomas Tighe, phrased it, the “breadth of his intellect.”

“He’s still a great speaker,” Steven Crandell says of Clinton. “Watch his eyes when he talks and watch the people watching him, and they’re engaged. Not too many politicians still have that.”