Bill Clinton's My Life III
Bill Long 10/7/06
I loved the following two stories. When Clinton was campaigning in remote Arkansas he described the region by the nature of the humorous stories or "one-liners" they used. One such one-liner to describe a person you didn't like was: "I wouldn't piss in his ear if his brain was on fire" (213). Makes you sort of want to visit AR, doesn't it? Then, he told the story of his response to Vice-President Dan Quayle's announcement that he would be Bush's "pit bull terrier" on Clinton in the 1992 campaign. This was what Agnew did in 1971 and 1972 and what Bob Dole did before he mellowed and became a media favorite in his senior years. When Clinton heard about it, his response was that Quayle's claim would strike terror into the heart of every fire hydrant in America. So cute, and so adept--especially for those who knew Dan Quayle's ineptitude.
Clinton, and Others, from a Different Angle
1. By the time I got to know about Zell Miller, the conservative Democratic Governor of GA (later served in the Senate), I had very little sympathy for him. He seemed to have been so far "right," that I wondered why he ever was a Democrat. But Clinton gives us a window into Miller through quoting a portion of Miller's speech at the 1992 Democratic Convention. After explaining his poverty as a child, and his admiration for his mother who built their house one stone at a time after his father's death, he got around to criticizing Dan Quayle. Quayle had been campaigning for Bush on a "family values platform," in which he argued for the superiority of two-parent families. Miller responded:
"So, you see, I know what Dan Quayle means when he says it's best for children to have two parents. You bet it is. And it would be good if they could all have trust funds, too. We can't all be born rich, handsome, and lucky. And that's why we have a Democratic Party" (416).
2. Then there is a story Clinton tells about how important the Pentecostal Christians were to him during his time as Attorney General of Arkansas (1977-79). He mentioned he got to know a woman named Dianne Evans in his office who invited him to her Pentecostal Church to see how they really had fun, and Clinton was taken not only by the beautiful music and heartfelt devotion, but especially by the fact that his most supportive "comforters" after his 1980 loss for Covernor were Pentecostal preachers. "They arrived at the Governor's Mansion, prayed with me, told me they loved me just as much now as they had when I was a winner, and left" (251). Such steady optimism and love enabled him to relate well to them when they had difficulties with the state (regarding licensing of child-care facilities), and provided him much needed help during his subsequent campaigns.
3. If there is one thing that is the "genuine" Clinton, I believe, it is is compassion for the "little people" in the country. Perhaps imitating the successful "1000 Points of Light" program of George Bush, Clinton focused on several dozen "Faces of Hope" that, he says, taught him about "the pain and promise of America" in 1992 (473). Make no mistake about it; Clinton was a successful politician because he could play well to the media, but his concern for people in his autobiography strikes me as genuine. One of the "Faces of Hope" he mentions is the family of Louise and Clifford Ray, whose three sons were hemophiliacs who contracted AIDS through tainted blood transfusions. He tells the story of how the oldest boy died of AIDS during just before he became President, and the the second son died of AIDS just after he left office. Who is to say whether Clinton's almost single-minded devotion to the cause of fighting the worldwide AIDS crisis isn't related to his experience with the Ray family in 1992?
Clinton's Personal Mistakes
I appreciate finally learning about the context in which Bill and Hillary's two most famous spoken mistakes were made: (1) when Bill said he "didn't inhale" when smoking marijuana; and (2) when Hillary said during the 1992 campaign: "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookes and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession" (397). Clinton gave explanations of each of these that weren't particularly convincing if they were meant as exculpations, but at least he provided the context.
But one subject that he doesn't handle well so far is his sexual escapades. Well, I didn't really expect him to "bare all," so to speak, but he wasn't very straightforward about his relationship to Gennifer Flowers, whom the Republicans lighted on in February 1992 to try to "sink" Clinton. He admits that he had an "inappropriate" relationship with her but he also says that it wasn't a "12 year" affair, as was alleged by some in the media. One can infer from reading between the lines that he made some moves on a vulnerable woman who had come to him for help when she was at a point of personal need, that it came back to haunt him in 1992, and that he still really didn't know how to deal with it in 2004.
Do we expect ex-Presidents to tell us about their sexual dalliances? I don't know, and I don't think that Clinton knows. On the one hand, you can make a convincing case that it has little to do with how well a person governs; on the other hand, knowing a person's sexual proclivities, as well as other aspects of his emotional or temperamental makeup, gives us a fuller view of the person. We can't really expect an autobiographer to tell us these things, however. Possibly a later biographer will do so.
So many other interesting things fill his pages. One easily recognizes in him a "genius" in what John Howard Gardner (of multiple intelligences fame) would call "interpersonal intelligence." Clinton has probably the most highly-honed political sense of any person I have ever studied. He just knows you have to honor people's experience and go and talk with them about what their loves and interests are. He knows you can't please everyone all the time, but you can please almost everyone some of the time. And, his greatest challenge is to find out how to appreciate something in almost everyone he meets, and honor their struggle and dignity in life. This is what makes Clinton an alluring political figure for me.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long