Friday, January 25, 2008

Bill Clinton, Character Shaped By Democratic Elections

The old adage says that Democracy is the worst form of government, except for everything else. Bill Clinton's character and soul -- if you believe in such a thing as a soul -- was shaped almost entirely out of democratic electoral politics. If it seems as if there is nothing stern and of principle beneath the mild, silver-haired, pro-middle class veneer, you are probably correct. Perhaps that explains why he seems to lack a thing called shame (And, lightly in his defense, why he was probably so effective in managing the post-Cold War peace dividend). Clinton is entirely utilitarian; he exists to make the largest amount of people happy. In return, he gets Validation, Self-Esteem and Power. Is that a fair trade?

Much ado has been made of Bill Clinton as the archetype of Boomerness. It is now de rigeur to profile Clinton in glossy magazines as being the largest cat in the jungle, the embodiment of the elite Martha's Vineyard-Napa Valley-nexus Beltway Boomer. He likes golf, women, and internationalism.

There are other ways, however, to assess Bill Clinton other than as the embodiment of the upper-percentile of his generation. In fact, looking at Clinton through Boomer-tinted sunglasses (Raybans, to be sure) means engaging in the same tedious Generation Game -- we are only the product of our historical circumstances -- that Obama is trying, gamely, to elevate us from out of. Liberal-conservative; Boomer-Xer; Masculin-Feminin: Manichean, bi-polar interpretations of Reality gave us President Bush, a man so resolutely stubborn he has nearly brought this great Nation to calamitous ruin.

Michael Bloomberg and Obama, cleverly, have already perceived the subtle shift away from the Manichean. Even Congress, with the bipartisan stimulus package, seems to be moving into post racial, post partisan strategy. Americans -- and, soon, the rest of the world -- are growing disgusted with demogoguish appeals to their lowest common themes, namely, our blood, our melanin count in our skin, our gender, our sexuality. Our collective humanity and our particular individualities are so much larger than the cheap appeals that a low-grade piece of ass politician might make to our race or our gender. Curiously, though, when a politician of significant rhetorical skill makes such a low appeal -- for example Pat Buchanan and Lou Dobb's discovery of the g-spot of the Republican Party: Then Damn Mexicans -- it sets the emotions aflame. And when the emotions are aflame, the mind is usually on vacation.

But back to Clinton. How about we look at Clinton as he represents himself in his astonishing autobiography My Life (If you haven't read this book, please do; it is the best Presidential memoir since Ulysses S. Grant's magnificent memoirs). The most striking fact that comes out of reading this book is that Bill Clinton began running for office -- student council -- at an alarmingly early age, and continued, essentially, to the present, where he labors in the stables of Hercules for his wife (And, we cannot fail to note, for his legacy and for his continued political relevance). The scenery-chewer lobbied to get to Georgetown, maneuvered at Yale Law, jaw-boned his way into Oxford, then, back to politics in the South where he veered -- at just the right time judging the political winds, after Senators Moynihan and Jay Rockefeller issued aristocratic declinals -- to go against the then-immensely popular post-Persian Gulf War Bush, 41.

And now, it seems, Clinton's latest, endless campaign is for his wife, so that: a) His legacy is secure, b) He is once again relevant, c) He returns the favor for her remaining on board post-Lewinsky, and d) He'd possibly become Secretary General of the United Nations, a position that clearly he covets, and may actually someday possess.

Charmed, I'm sure (Exaggerated cough suggesting feigned detachment).

Bill Clinton's entire life has been the clarification of the central theme of his being elected The Most Popular Boy. Looking at Bill Clinton this way -- and not simple as a specimen of 50something, Middle aged man-psychology -- is almost touching. Bill runs to live; he lives to run. Every election is a validation of self. Sad.

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