The Clinton Jones

Why We Can't Let the Big Creep Go

Despite all the jokes about W's inherited connections, no one is hauling him up on morals charges. The tabs didn't torment Ronald Reagan for accepting $2.5 million from his friends to finance his ranch or $2 million for two brief speeches in Japan. (Poppy Bush's comment at the time was: "Everybody has to make a living.") No one cried treason when Richard Nixon pardoned Jimmy Hoffa shortly before the Teamsters endorsed him. With Clinton, it's the cheesiness as much as the corruption that enables the scandal.

Clinton is not just a personality, he's a type: the glad-handing, quick-witted trickster who appears in Southern fiction as Brer Rabbit or Sporting Life. His most infamous trait—the gluttonous need for approval and affection—gives Clinton his formidable "common touch," but it also makes him vulnerable to stigma, and likely to internalize it. There is no fitter explanation for Clinton's calamitous behavior with Monica Lewinsky or for his politically catastrophic pardons. He has given his enemies everything they need by being what they want him to be.

Of course, there have been other presidents who grew up in hardship and endured outrageous calumny without losing their personal and political integrity. For that matter, many members of stigmatized groups resist their designated destiny. Whatever the source of this strength, it allows such people to take their cues primarily from within. Clinton lacks this capacity. That's why he makes such a good victim, and why his torment is so entertaining.

illustration: Michelle Chang

Nothing satisfies sadistic impulses like the fall of a very powerful man. Nothing makes for better television—or more effective politics.

Research: Michael Corwin

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