Love in Vain: Bill Clinton’s Unrequited Affair
January 10, 1995
WELCOME TO REPUBLICAN NATION, where men are men and President Bill Clinton is a skirt-chasing, draft-dodging, pot-smoking, non-inhaling, pussy-whipped, pussy-eating, pussycat-owning, homo-loving, touchie-feelie, yellow-bellied peacenik wuss.
Back in 1992, the American electorate (or 43 per cent of it, anyway) voted for a lover, not a fighter. A would-be Elvis defeated a John Wayne wannabe. Woodstock eclipsed Pearl Harbor as a generational metaphor. Now, as the New Dole dawns, we peer into our Kristol ball and see two years in Limbaugh with our Newtered president making ever more feeble attempts to recast himself as an old-fashioned TruMan.
What’s Clinton’s problem? Like his similarly suspect predecessor Jimmy Carter at the midpoint of his single term, Clinton is widely regarded as an incompetent — despite a growing economy and the fact that, on his so-called watch, almost no American blood has been shed on foreign soil. So why the widespread perception that there is something frighteningly unpresidential about our maximum leader?
REPUBLICAN NATION was eagerly inaugurated moments after the November election with the spectacle of Speaker-to-be Gingrich’s quasi-presidential treatment in the media. It was as if television had discovered in Newt a shining new star: Bill Clinton’s evil twin.
Fawned upon by Ted Koppel, attacked daily by the op-ed pundits of the Eastern liberal press, his peccadillos fruitlessly “exposed” by New York tabloids, his coffers swelled by a $4 million advance from Rupert Murdoch’s publishing house, the architect of Republican victory stormed the zeitgeist machine — superseding even O.J. Simpson as the object of The New Yorker’s fascination.
Yes, only six years after the show closed, it was time again for a man’s-man’s-man’s-man’s world: Reaganism redux. Back to the sci-fi future of Star Wars in cyberspace, and maybe even a new adventure with Indiana Jones. But first, some necessary chastisement. For, Newt (like Ronbo) gives every promise of being a man who can smile broadly while wielding a large and bloody ax.
So, will Bill Clinton feel Republican pain? Is the pope Time magazine’s Man of the Year?
THREE CARTOON images might be conjured by the Democratic defeat. One is of a blubbering, defenseless fat boy being taunted by a vicious crowd of schoolyard bullies. The second, even more pathetic, is of that same hapless fat boy chasing frantically after his tormentors, huffing and puffing and hoping the gang will let him join in their game. The third and creepiest has the fat boy turning his aggression on some smaller, weaker playmate.
Three years ago, Bill Clinton won a Democratic nomination very few politicians wanted largely by defining himself as an anti-Democrat Democrat. Now, in his grotesque attempt to crash the Republican party, the president can barely wait to endorse a constitutional amendment on school prayer, propose an additional $25 billion for defense spending, dangle again the prospect of a middle-class tax cut, offer to shut down an entire federal agency (or three), and humiliate an uppity black woman who — in keeping with his previous pattern — was also something of a personal friend.
Bill Clinton just wants everyone to love him. So why does America, defined in the received wisdom of the last election as a land of white males, hate him so much?
Last month’s drive-by shooting, which left four nine-millimeter slugs in and around the White House, is just the most blatant evidence that it’s open season on the president — an idea coyly endorsed by Jesse Helms in the election’s heady aftermath. Did the Maryland kamikaze who crashed his light plane onto the White House lawn hear voices in his brain? Or was he just monitoring Rush on the headset? What about Martin Duran, the 26-year-old ex-GI with a prior history of racial and homophobic violence, who — less than a week before the election — sprayed the White House and its press room with a 29-shot round from an automatic assault rife. What was his frequency, Kenneth?
Suddenly, it’s Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue, as real killers stalk the nation’s dreams. One might assume that the final disintegration of the Soviet Evil Empire would be cause for a national feelgood bacchanal. Wrong!!!! Instead, there is emptiness, lack of purpose, confused self-definition, the depression that (Oprah could tell us) is rage turned inward. No time for pleasure now.
The Great Satan is dead, but nature abhors a vacuum — hence the “culture war” Pat Buchanan declared at the 1992 Republican convention (seconded by two other would-be presidents, Pat Robertson and Phil Gramm). “There is no ‘after the Cold War,’ ” neocon godfather Irving Kristol recently ranted in The Public Interest. “So far from having ended, my cold war has increased in intensity, as sector after sector of American life has been ruthlessly corrupted by the liberal ethos.… Now that the other ‘Cold War’ is over, the real cold war has begun.” In other words, the battle against the Soviets was only a rehearsal. The true jihad is the post–Cold War cleanup that demonizes liberals, rappers, feminazis, illegal aliens, counterculture McGoverniks, welfare mothers, secular humanists, homosexuals, performance artists, and Democrats.
Clinton, to his credit, has proven stubbornly disinclined to designate the devils. But isn’t that exactly why we need a president? The leader is delegated to identify our enemies and thereby allow us to define ourselves — and this is something Bill Clinton seems temperamentally unable to do. He has difficulty with boundary issues, as Oprah might say. To the rage of Republicans, despair of Democrats, and contempt of all, he’s conflict-averse, a hopeless “people pleaser.”
Clinton’s failure to name the new national threat (let alone identify a threat to himself) has been compounded by his equally perverse refusal to cut and whack and thereby bind the nation to his cause. Nor has Clinton (yet) brought himself to kick wog ass in Bosnia or Haiti, Iraq or North Korea, demonstrating for the world to hear the clank of his — and our — big brass balls.
THE LAST ELECTION was almost universally explained as the white man’s revenge — specifically, the Southern white man’s revenge. The Wall Street Journal’s postmortem interview with a 33-year-old unemployed Memphisite is typical. Mesmerized by the spectacle of women driving to work each morning, the Journal’s jobless everyman told the reporter, “You just know that has got to emasculate a diehard, big-ego, male chauvinist. Men have got to have a scapegoat… and Clinton is just perfect for everybody’s ailment.”
Fuckin’ A! But what exactly ails us? Call it regis flaccidosis. It is precisely because men invest the nation’s leader with some sense of their own potency that they are so mortified by a president whose idea of human sacrifice is dumping Joycelyn Elders. Then, too, the fear and loathing occasioned by Bill Clinton’s “unmanliness” is further amplified in his generational association with the lost Vietnam War. As a commander-in-chief who not only did not fight and kill for America, but openly opposed the war and even sought to evade the draft, our Führer Bill is a grievous affront to that which the Germans call the Männerstaat — the state as an expression of masculine authority.
His scepter wilted, Clinton must wear the jester’s cap. In editorial cartoons, the president appears stripped to his heart-patterned boxer shorts, or cowering under the bed covers with a shrewish Hillary; he’s reduced to a fuzzy Easter Bunny or blown up as a bulb-nosed buffoon. The New York Post routinely represents Clinton in the company of angst-ridden plucked chickens. The Dayton Daily News caricatures him in drag as a dowdy, befuddled “Mrs. Don’tfire.”
Dazedly clinging to a severed, useless missile so that even her oversize pocketbook is unavailable as a weapon, Mrs. Don’tfire offers the fattest of targets for the slings and spitballs of mischievous Newt. But the negative images attached to our leader may have less to do with him than with us. So, too, the current projection on the iconically perfect yet politically blank screen that is General Colin Powell. (Won’t he please play Lou Gossett to Bill’s Richard Gere in a 1996 release of An Officer and a Gentleman II?)
Even as the president’s endlessly reiterated worst crime was his attempt to pansify the nation’s armed forces, his own absent war record revived repressed feelings of Vietnam impotence, at the precise moment when the possibility of a reduced defense budget had sent the military into a panic of perceived emasculation. (Thus, the peace dividend must be spent preferably on Star Wars, to defend ourselves from a nonexistent threat.)
Underlying the Reagan-era’s repression of a historical truth — that the Vietnam War was profoundly unpopular — is a tacit recognition that those sacrificed there were suckers. Rage at Clinton covers the survivor guilt of the millions — including Newt, Rush, and Quayle — who, no less than the president, scampered across an unleveled playing field and successfully dodged the bullet.
CLINTON’S MASCULINITY is suspect in other, less martial ways. The 1984 and 1988 elections were widely reported and experienced as victories by manly Republicans over feminized Democrats. The 1992 contest, actually dubbed by the media “The Year of the Woman,” was more like the battle of the wimps.
Significantly more evolved than Mondale or Dukakis, Clinton actively promoted the idea of his spouse as an intelligent being and full partner: “Buy one, get one free.” Now, Time imagines that Clinton is unable to persuade anyone to run his reelection campaign because so “few believe [he] can prevent his wife… from taking over.” Having ceded a small portion of his actual power to Hillary, Clinton is constantly being called upon to defend her honor, even as he himself is besieged by the other women in his life. Either way, it signifies an absence of male control.
Clinton is at once a lustful sexual harasser, swinging his dick at Paula Jones (instead of Saddam Hussein), and a hapless pawn in his wife’s megalomaniacal game. These contradictory images of our polymorphously perverse pander-bear, as well as the leadership style he is thought to exemplify, are conflated in a recent Louisville Courier-Journal cartoon, which visualized a bloated Clinton (no Demi Moore) engulfing a terrified white man in the unwanted warmth of his smoochy embrace: “Bill Clinton & the American Middle Class in Disclosure.”
Inadvertent self-disclosure is more like it. America thinks that America doesn’t need to be hugged. America believes that, like a delinquent in Singapore, America heeds to be caned! Down with Mrs. Don’tfire! Dump Bill! As suggested by the current “mean sex” chic (featured on New York’s cover shortly after the election), what America craves is not therapy but discipline. And in the new Washington power equation, there’s no doubt who’s the top and who’s the bottom. Left to his own devices, Clinton would surely abuse himself.
The president doesn’t even have the courage of his skirt-chasing, draft-dodging, pot-smoking, pussy-eating, homo-loving, peacenik convictions — which is why we can’t stand him either.
Out with the bleeding heart Democrats. In with the chop-and-slash Republicans. Failing that, there is always the Ultimate Weapon. As Newt told the Heritage Foundation a month before the election: “I do have a vision of an America in which a belief in the Creator is once again at the center of defining being an American.” Forget Jesus; the Creator whom Gingrich envisions is a punitive proponent of tough love. Or so it has been revealed to us by His prophet’s representation on successive covers of Time and Newsweek as those hard-hearted Christmasphobes, Scrooge and the Grinch.
What is the renewed insistence on prayer in public school if not a state-sanctioned return of the Great White Father? It must be time for the bloodthirsty patriarch William Blake named “Old Nobodaddy”: the cosmic bully who demands uncritical obedience from his priggish followers. They typically express their devotion through persecution and heresy-hunting. Nobodaddy has no use for sex or fun — or even National Public Radio: “Damn praying & singing/Unless they will bring in/The blood of ten thousand by fighting or swinging.”
Pleasure is the enemy. Hence the fascinated horror of homosexual orgies in marine shower stalls. Hence the significance of Joycelyn Elders’s terminal transgression. Masturbation privatizes sex, and sex without the possibility of procreation channels vital resources away from the production of potential workers and soldiers for the Männerstaat.
Republican Nation may hate government but it worships authority. Bill Clinton is despised because he is perceived to embody one without projecting the other. ❖
SCHOOL PRAYERS FOR CHRISTIAN CHILDREN
From the Right Reverend Michael Feingold, D.D.
I. LORD JESUS FULFILL THY ETERNAL PROMISE. Suffer the enemies of thy kingdom to be cast into the furnace of fire, with wailing and gnashing of teeth. Disfigure Newt Gingrich with leprosy, that he may be humbled. Send ravens to peck out Jesse Helms’s eyes, that his sight may be improved. Strip Pat Robertson naked, rend his flesh, and desolate his house, for he is as a whited sepulchre, full of hypocrisy and iniquity within. Lord, show these men no mercy, for they have dealt arrogantly with thee; they have strained at the gnats of thy law, and omitted the weightier matters of judgment, mercy, and faith; they proclaim the outside of the cup and the platter clean, while within they are full of extortion and excess. We shall endure their iniquity, Lord, because thou hast commanded it, but we pray that the great tribulation may be brought upon them soon, and that we who have suffered under the lash of their evil may see thee in thy glory, Amen.
II. LORD JESUS RESTORE OUR WELFARE SYSTEM, that it may feed the starving among us. For though hast said, “Give to him that asketh thee,” yet our wealthy refuse to give, and call judgment down upon the poor where thou hast said, “Judge not.” Knowing that thou lovest charity above all earthly deeds, we pray for the greedy and the selfish of our Republican party, that they may learn to see by thy light, which so many of them falsely claim to be their guide. “It is not meet,” thou teachest us, “to take children’s bread, and cast it unto the dogs,” yet these men take the bread away from children like ourselves, and cast it unto the dogs of affluence. Restore their sense of mercy, Lord, that they may feed us and our prayer to be given our daily bread may not go unanswered, in thy name, Amen.
III. LORD JESUS FREE ME FROM MY FAMILY. For thou hast come to set father against son and daughter against mother, and my father and mother are already sore set against me, for their ways are not my ways. I search, Lord, for the best way to live my life, and I know that, trusting in thee, I shall find it, given time, prayer, and patience. But my parents would compel me into their ways, without time or thought, even while their own bond is become a bitter yoke, and they cleave not to one another. Lord, free them from their bond for as in thy kingdom there is no taking nor giving in marriage, so all mortals should be free of these burdens on earth. Let us all live as we wish, men with men and women with women if we so choose, but that they be bonds of love, with couples cleaving unto one another, that these unions may be worthy by thy light, and the kingdom of heaven may be granted them, no matter how they are despised by the unrighteous here on earth. For the last shall be first and the meek shall inherit, as thou hast said it. Amen.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 14, 2020