Monday, June 2, 2008

First Person Plural

June 2, 2008

With the primary season about to come to an end, I’m winding up a book I got from the Hoboken library, For Love of Politics, by Sally Bedell Smith. It’s an exhaustive rendering of the presidency of William Jefferson Clinton, with flashbacks to days in Arkansas and side trips into the mechanics of one of the most interesting marriages of the 20th Century.

I lived through it all, but in reading the book I marvel at how little the public knows about all the factions and factors facing anyone in that office (the oval one) – all the daily decisions and near-misses that end up as legislation that will affect the nation. In Bill and Hillary Clinton, we have the added drama of a pas de deux that often resembled a folie à deux. In the former, there is the not atypical pairing of addict and codependent, a familiar footwork of relapse and recompense; the latter possibility being a tendency to cover up, accept a mutual coloration of the truth and come up with a comfortable self-deception for two. That the deception involved bringing the nation to the dance, and persuading us to believe that this couple deserved eight years of presidency apiece, and further, that this would be the best thing for the country and the world, is astonishing, all the moreso because they came close to making it happen. And it ain’t over yet.

Bill Clinton is not an unfamiliar type to Southerners. He has that slick salesman’s charm and the seductive style of a boy who never had and never could have enough love in his life, and the need to win over the opposition – if necessary by literally taking the words out of their mouths, reframing them, thereby convincing them that he is the smartest person they ever met.

I always wince when someone tells me how smart he is. I know smart people are capable of doing stupid things, but in his case the stupid things on the record far outweigh the smart ones. He may be gifted with the kind of memory that impresses people, and if so he uses that to his advantage in every situation, but he doesn’t seem to possess the ability to learn from his mistakes and make basic changes in his own approach in order to become a whole and balanced person. He seems to be driven by need to achieve far beyond his ability to function. It's not quite enough to have the mind that makes straight A's in school; being smart requires the ability to live in reality and make the decisions of daily life as well as the big ones.

I would never suggest that anybody other than the Type A Personality would make a run for the office of the Presidency, or that Bill Clinton didn’t feel that as President he would be the best thing that ever happened to the country. His respect for Hillary and their mutual commitment to power and prestige brought her on the trip for much more than any presidential wife has ever had the gall to assume. Her in the role of First Lady successfully eclipsed that of Al Gore as Vice President, and that was by design.

At first I liked Hillary far better than I did Bill, but her abrasive management style rubbed a lot of us the wrong way pretty soon, with the firings of people and the denying she did it, and the way she had of making herself seem above the fray when she clearly had been in the center of the dirty work. It all became tiring very soon for me, but I was not surprised when she ran for the Senate and that she won a seat against a very inexperienced and young opponent. She transformed herself from obnoxious wife of the boss to wronged wife, and then came out as if she herself were the politician with all the political gifts of her husband.

Through it all she has maintained that she is a candidate with great concern for women, and women seem to be buying that line. Yes, she is brilliant, yes, she is tough, yes, she is the type of Type A that would be found running for President. The two questions the book answered for me were “Why did she stay with him?” and “Why won’t she give up in this race since she is not winning?” Her explanation that Americans don't quit doesn't make sense to me.

She stayed with him because she had no choice. In the Monica Lewinsky debacle, Hillary emerged victorious once more by staying put and waiting until most of the thing blew over (there is some doubt if it all ever will). The pattern of that marriage is that of a long ongoing power struggle between two unbelievably strong personalities. They made plans together and worked together to achieve their goals. In his mind, it’s her turn now; after his ultimate dalliance, so painful and so public, his penance will not be achieved until she’s safely serving as President.

In a way, this is also the answer to the second question. There is a certain amount of delusion in her belief that she must win, but she has enough power and apparently enough I.O.U.’s in the superdelegate marketplace that she has been able to freeze them until she says it’s okay to go. She must be President. I don’t particularly look forward to that time, but my eyes are open to the reality that if it doesn’t matter how you bend the truth, if it doesn’t matter who you use to further your ends, if you take your time and build your constituency, male or female, you can become the most powerful person in the world.

Let's just hope it's not this Wednesday.


Anonymous said...

Bill (Slick Willy) Clinton once said on a tv show, “The reason I did what I did is because I could." How ever true that is, most presidents did have that luxury but were clever enought to invite a professional to complete the job and vow their silence. Why did Hillary stay with him? Because she could. Like so many other woman with husbands with money and power, why let a little thing like that spoil there way of life? DON’T GET MAD GET EVEN . I’m sure Hillary has. Now, she wants to be President...GEE I thought she was. All we heard was her mouth for eight years. NOW if she loses her chance to be President, POOR BILLY WILL BE BACK IN THE DOG HOUSE.

Mary Lois said... I see why I should stick to posting about Hoboken history. I've gotten lots of emails from new friends, will post about the good old days again tomorrow.

Steve said...

"I won't be ignored, Dan! "

Glen Close character's memorable quote from Fatal Attraction

Anonymous said...

ML, how much of this did you paraphrase from that book? If a lot, it's one I'll put on my list. Excellent insight into the royal pair.

Incidentally, I easily recognized your "Suthren-boy" source. He puts on my shoes all too often.

Mary Lois said...

Coach --

I had to go back and re-read the post because I didn't remember if it was original or paraphrased. The answer is that it was very much my opinions, very little actually from the book, but all inspired by it and the resultant thinking about the Clintons more than I ever wanted to.

Like All the President's Men it is a rehash of events, this time giving backroom details the public could not have known about along with the many conflicts during the period of the Clinton presidency that were very much played out in public. It portrays a couple of angry people embroiled a symbiotic relationship of personal need.

It is strictly factual, and nowhere near as opinionated as this blog post.

Anonymous said...

Okay, ML. You is as cool as ever.

Steve, you have got a good ear for dialogue. I've seen that movie twice and didn't recall that line. Thanks for the replay.

Elmer Gantry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

Coach, I've got to give credit to Peggy Noonan who referenced the quote in her 2/8/2008 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed.