Is Bill Clinton the New Michael Richards?

You know you're getting old when there's no longer a question of whether you like the music of the Grammy award winners, but merely whether you've heard of them. Prior to tonight, if someone had asked me who Amy Winehouse was, I'd have either guessed "a low-cal alcoholic drink marketed to college-age women" or "a girl who went to my high school whose name I never knew." I had heard of Kanye West, but only because of what he said about George Bush in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

My own cultural reference points are older. I first started teaching law in the early 1990s, and even then, most of my students looked on in uncomprehending pity at my Monty Python references. Not that this stopped (or stops) me from relying on the old touchstones, but I've tried to update my material a bit. This is made difficult by my almost complete disconnection from current pop culture, so that a "current" reference for me is to a 10-year-old Seinfeld episode.

Which brings me to today's topic. Last week in my con law class I referred to a Seinfeld episode and then got that creepy feeling I now get whenever I think about Michael Richards. It's a little like the feeling I'm sure I'd get if I were to watch a Naked Gun movie and see OJ Simpson. It goes like this: Hey, that's funny. Oh right, he turned out to be a racist (Richards)/murderer (Simpson); maybe not so funny.

And so the question now arises for another 90s celeb, arguably the biggest one of all, William Jefferson Clinton III: Must those of us who formerly viewed him as a reasonably effective President who presided over 8 years of peace and prosperity, albeit one who squandered his enormous political talents because of his personal weaknesses, completely re-evaluate our picture of the 42nd President? Where we once saw a man who was hailed with affection (if also hyperbole) as "the first black President," should we now see instead the man who, when the chips are down, exploited racial divisions? Think of candidate Clinton going out of his way to execute Ricky Ray Rector or to pick a fight with Sister Souljah and prospective First Laddy Clinton dismissing Barack Obama's South Carolina victory on the ground that Jesse Jackson also won South Carolina.

So, is Bill Clinton like Michael Richards? Not entirely. Richards, under pressure from Jerry Seinfeld, apologized. So far, no apology, and no pressure from Hillary.

Posted by Mike Dorf