I don’t know what it is about the Clintons that fuels their love-hate relationship with the American public, but the country continues to be obsessed with them even though Bill Clinton is out of the office and should have long become a “has been.”
Perhaps it is the fact that Bill and Hillary make such pretense of rooting for the common man, perhaps it is Hillary’s self-professed feminism, perhaps it is Bill Clinton’s humble roots … whatever the reasons, the sleazy acts that are perhaps common to all politicians take on a new grubbiness when associated with the Clintons.
The Democrats stood by the Clintons in their time of crisis. Excuses were made. Other leaders have had affairs, it was argued: Thomas Jefferson, FDR, John F. Kennedy, to name just a few. Yet many Democrats I know thought that the sleaziness of Bill Clinton’s deeds consisted in the very non-affair nature of the liaison he had with Monica Lewinsky. Perhaps everyone would have forgotten Monica if only Clinton had had the decency to make love to her properly.
Instead, there was something so misogynistic in the way he stood by the sink, letting her service him like a common prostitute, that it is difficult to purge those images from the national psyche. Is this the same man, we wonder, who recently stood behind his wife like a truly liberated male, wiping his tears as she delivered a victory speech upon her election to the United States Senate?
Of course politicians are hypocrites, Newt Gingrich is an example of one.
But the Clintons are not just hypocritical; they are a study in contradictions. The other Clinton, Hillary, masqueraded as the wounded wife, for example, when it served her political purposes to do so, yet maintained a “She Who Must Be Obeyed” persona in other walks of life. Will the real Clintons please stand up?
The Clintons remind me of the Woody Allen movie “Zelig,” which epitomized the chameleon nature of American character. But even Zelig was only capable of acquiring different identities at different times; the Clintons, on the other hand, can be different people at the same time. This is precisely why people can’t forget or forgive the Clintons, I think; to many of us they don’t seem quite human, there is something witching about them.
But most of all, people can’t forget and forgive the Clintons because they are the tackiest people around.
Other politicians are tacky too. The Reagans, for example, took the art of kitsch to new heights. But the Reagans never pretended to be anything else; they never had the benefit of an education at Yale or the knowledge of philosophy and literature.
The Clintons, in contrast, created a new brand of political elite, a cross between Arkansas white trash and Ivy League preppie. The Democratic Party leadership is now discovering that this elite may indeed prove corrosive to the long-term prospects of a democratic presidency.
This is why many democrats like myself wanted Bill and Hillary to fade away into the Arkansas sunset after the termination of Bill’s term. Unfortunately, the alpha couple had grown too accustomed to the limelight to vanish into oblivion, so now we face four more years of scandal mongering, followed by the daunting prospect of a Clinton presidential campaign for the year 2004.
But the Clintons may soon discover that they have outstayed their welcome in Washington. In the latest brouhaha over presidential pardons, even the Democrats refused to rush to the Clintons’ defense. Perhaps having lost the presidency to a guy who could not have been more the opposite of Clinton, the Democrats have at last realized that Bill Clinton may have been a great president, but he did not pave the way for a longer-term democratic legacy for the presidency; that whatever Bill Clinton might have achieved for the country, he negated through the personal scandals surrounding him, so that we are back now where we were eight years ago, in a Bush presidency, attacking Saddam Hussein, and promising tax cuts. It is still not too late for the Clintons to bid adieu. Hillary’s senate term will soon pass. I hope they will pack up then and go to Hollywood, where, even the Clintons cannot outshine others in tacky elitism.
Sarita Sarvate writes commentaries for Pacific News Service and KQED.