'I'm Going To Miss This Place'

Jetting to Los Angeles for a weekend of speeches and fund-raisers last Friday, Bill Clinton turned philosophical. The president and his close friend Bruce Lindsey were chatting aboard Air Force One when Clinton began reminiscing about all the famous people he'd met in his White House years. "One of the great things about being president is that nearly anybody will come to talk to you--once, anyway," he later joked to an audience. Even now Clinton maintains a bustling social schedule. Earlier in the week he'd taken in a Washington Wizards basketball game with the team's new co-owner Michael Jordan, who lobbied Clinton for a round of presidential golf. In L.A. he hit the links with Jack Nicholson and spent the night in the mansion of record mogul David Geffen.

And yet, though he is often surrounded by rich and famous hangers-on, Clinton is in many ways more alone now than at any time in his presidency, and perhaps his life. Even during the lonely days of the Lewinsky scandal, there were old friends and trusted aides down the hall. But these days the White House is a much emptier place for the president. His wife has moved to their new home in New York. Al Gore, out campaigning, no longer has time for his weekly lunch with the president. Many of his closest friends--Mack McLarty, Erskine Bowles, Robert Rubin--have moved on. More recently, Clinton has been troubled by a belief that the American people may have left him, too. Opinion polls consistently show that though most Americans approve of the way Clinton is doing his job as president, they have little regard for him as a person.

Determined to win back their respect, Clinton has thrown himself into an ambitious final-year agenda. The president's State of the Union Message this week will be packed with poll-approved policies on hate crimes, tax cuts, health care and education. During the working day he spends hours in policy sessions and unveiling new initiatives. At night he heads up to the residence with a wonky policy book to read in bed.

The years to come are far less scripted. When he leaves the White House next year, Clinton will be the youngest ex-president since Teddy Roosevelt. In the darkest days of the Lewinsky scandal, he worried his image was so tarnished that he might not be able to earn a living once he left office. Those fears have passed. He has retained an agent, Washington lawyer Robert Barnett, to field a steady flow of job offers from foundations and the corporate world. Clinton recently denied rumors that he had inked a multimillion-dollar deal with Lazard Freres, Vernon Jordan's New York investment firm. One tantalizing, but friends say highly unlikely, possibility: a run for Congress from Arkansas; Clinton recently teased that it "might be something I ought to think about."

In the meantime Clinton has spent hours poring over blueprints and scale models of his presidential library, a $125 million museum and archive to be set on 28 acres of parkland along the Arkansas River in Little Rock. The library will include a public-policy center, a chapel and an apartment where Clinton can stay the night. The president has involved himself with the minutest details, meeting regularly with architect James Polchek and exhibit designer Ralph Appelbaum, who collaborated on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Ex-president Clinton will split his time between the Little Rock museum and New York, friends say. He talks of setting up a pied-a-terre in Manhattan in addition to the house in Chappaqua. Hillary's move to New York renewed whispering about the Clintons' marriage. But the president has privately lamented his wife's absence. Pressed by New York reporters, Hillary insisted that she plans to "spend the rest of my life" with her husband and said she'd never had an extramarital affair. The Clintons talk daily, often about her campaign.

Alone at night, Clinton sometimes picks up the phone to call old friends and reminisce. Those close to Clinton say that he is becoming increasingly nostalgic about his time in the White House. "The one word that captures it is 'wistful'," says an aide. "He does look around now and say, 'This room is not going to be mine'." Stepping outside the White House recently, the president gazed around the grounds and said with a sigh, "God, I'm going to miss this place." His only fear is that he won't be missed as much.

'I'm Going To Miss This Place' | News