CHAPPAQUA, NY–Reflecting on his presidency Monday, Bill Clinton expressed a "strange sense of disappointment" over the lack of dramatic attempts on his life.
"All the great ones had someone take a crack at them," Clinton said. "Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Kennedy–even Reagan. An assassination attempt would have really elevated my status in the pantheon of presidents."
"Is this how I'm going to be remembered? As the president who wasn't worth a couple pot shots?" Clinton asked. "For God's sake, even Ford had Squeaky Fromme."
Clinton said an assassination attempt would have given the nation an opportunity to rally around its wounded leader.
"I would have inspired every American with my strength and bravery," Clinton said. "Giving the American people a heroic thumbs-up despite my side wound as they loaded me into the ambulance, attempting to walk before my doctors really wanted me to, passing legislation and signing executive orders from my hospital bed in Annapolis... I would have been terrific."
"The Reagan shooting, that made his presidency," Clinton said. "I still remember watching the coverage of it on TV back in Little Rock, thinking to myself, 'Man, that guy is playing this perfectly. Someday, I'm going to assure a shaken American people that it will take more than a bullet to stop me from leading this great nation.'"
Those close to Clinton are beginning to worry about his preoccupation.
"He'd never tell you this himself, but when it didn't happen in his last few months in office, he was inconsolable," former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta said. "He just kept staring out the windows, first at that little hill behind the Oval Office, then at the hedge in the Rose Garden, as if willing a lone gunman to appear. Saddest thing you ever saw."
Podesta said Clinton had high hopes for a Nov. 14, 2000, visit to San Diego, a Republican-dominated city with a high number of ex-Marines. In addition to making three public speeches and waving to several large crowds in open areas, Clinton entered and exited numerous limousines and buildings during the trip. Not once, however, was the president ever in any danger.
"At one point, we walked out of a hotel and were greeted by a throng of people," Podesta said. "With TV cameras rolling, Bill rolls up his shirtsleeves and starts working his way through the crowd, shaking everybody's hands. After a few minutes, he leans over to me and says, 'Right now would be perfect.'"
Clinton Secretary of State Warren Christopher said he often tried to assure the president that he didn't need to be shot to be loved.
"I tried to tell him it's no big deal, that plenty of the great presidents never got shot at," Christopher said. "Like Washington. Besides, no one remembers Charles Guiteau shooting James Garfield. Or McKinley getting plugged by that Hungarian guy in Buffalo. But he just looks at me with these sad eyes."
Continued Christopher: "Then I reminded the president of Francisco Duran, the Army vet who took shots at the White House in 1994. All he could say was, 'Whoopee, someone shot at the White House while I was nowhere in the vicinity. That's really gonna secure my place in history.'"