There's nothing wrong with Bill Clinton that wasn't wrong when he was elected more or less by default; what's right was there, too, though still insufficient for the task. He remains what he always was, a professional politician with better intentions than most, but no 'bottom'. This is not because he came from nowhere (American mythology dotes on rustic origins) but because he lacked nowhere's virtue, its honesty. Harry Truman came from humble stock, he played 'Waltzing Matilda' on something he called the 'pie-an-er', but what he puffed, he really inhaled. One feels about Clinton that there are few temptations to which he has not and would not (as long as they contribute to his political survival) yield. In such a scheme, the presidency is just the biggest cheeseburger of them all.

What sort of man wants public office in the US? It was ever a peculiarity of this arch-Roman state that whether pro-consul or patrician, once the mantle of power fell upon you, you sensed the plinth being built up under your feet. No king inheriting his crown was ever so hedged in by divinity as an American president. The good ones understood this as a fate they had sought and enshrined themselves in real and memorable language.

The presidency requires some loftiness. It isn't just that Clinton's feet are of clay, but his self. With him, the aspirations are all in place, but not the cast of mind that can define them: being all things to all men is shirtsleeve populism, as empty as entertainment.

Americans are snobs. Particularly about their history, which is brief: so brief that JF Kennedy's Camelot that never was is its paradise lost. They (rightly) think the US is hugely special: a nation self-created outside of history, meticulously invented in disdain of the past, then forged and centralised in war. They want presidents who feed the myths. And myths are permanent things. They are not the business of the day; nor a racial or gender balancing act. They are the exact contrary of 'change' in that sound-bite sense. It is not Clinton's fault that he came to such maturity as he has in a period of instant gratification, in a nation unwilling to accept any authority beyond individual desire.

I suspect the one thing you cannot get away with in the US is demeaning the office, and thereby demeaning the nation. Isn't that what did Nixon in? Clinton would be everyman's crony, and is lost in interstellar fudge. What he seeks to heal are not the wounds of history Abraham Lincoln faced, but the self-inflicted wounds of self-interest, particularism and secular selfishness. He is the ultimate child of his time.

(Photograph omitted)