Bill Clinton Remembered

Aquarian Weekly 1/31/01 REALITY CHECK


Unlike many of my columnist brethren I have not found a good enough reason to compile an editorial overview of the Clinton presidency. Looking back serves only the purposes of historians and lawyers, and having never been accused of either profession, there is nothing for me to gain but the check mailed to the Putnam Bunker for penning it. But we were all there during these past eight years, and many have stories to impart and thoughts to convey. I am just not one of them, because the more I bang on this damned keyboard in front of me, the more I cannot think of one rational point that would encapsulate those times with any true justice.

Putting the universe in a paper cup was John Lennon’s deal, and then some transient manic-depressive put five bullets into him, and, for me, wrapping up the legacy of William Jefferson Clinton would be a far more fatal folly. And although death does not necessarily await the conclusion of this essay of the absurd, there was a time that evoking the image of Big Bill meant walking a tightrope against a stiff wind with no net in sight.

Politics has always been a crude hobby of mine, like getting loaded and debating the unanswerable or betting money I don’t have on football. But politics to Bill Clinton was life and death, and to get in the ring with him meant playing for keeps. Even reporting on it was a scarring experience. Some people learned that too late, but not me. I was always sure that being president was only some kind of warped high for Bill Clinton, a king-hell fuck around worthy of Ripley’s, but as serious as bone cancer, and I wasn’t about to put it all on the line to explain it.

In the summer of 1992 I was pushing 30, working as a sports columnist for a Westchester paper and coaching little monsters from Gravesend Brooklyn in the art of basketball. My dear friend, Chris Barrera happened to be working a media event for the burgeoning Clinton campaign at the Rye Hilton, where he shook the then governor of Arkansas’ hand and put all his eggs squarely in his basket. What followed was a strong affiliation with a Baby-Boomer giant, hatched from a Dead Head dream – a sax-playing, pot-smoking, war-protesting Elvis with a silky delivery – willing to get down with the corporate war mongers and deal makers to lay the leather.

The rest of us were laughing heartily at Bill Clinton that summer. He was accused of sex crimes, draft dodging and busy fending off a potential investigation for illegal money laundering. Gary Hart couldn’t survive an afternoon on a yacht, what chance did a man who was derisively cheered for wrapping up an interminably long-winded speech at the ’88 Democratic Convention have against a president of the United States that was riding high in the saddle after Desert Storm.

Those close to George Bush were sure the fat years of Ronald Reagan were still feeding the fire. He had the allusions of King George and the delusions of King Lear, but before long he would find himself bloodied in the Clinton ring. Meanwhile, a bleating curmudgeon named Ross Perot was busy suckering an electorate into believing that America was some kind of factory that needed a spit shine. He too failed to prepare for “the ring” and did nothing but help make Bill Clinton president.

And damn if Big Bill didn’t come out swinging with “gays in the military” and sending his wife into congress on a wing and a prayer to enact his greatest campaign promise. But as the liberals grumbled and the right wing smirked Hillary made a mockery of a national health care, and before two years were up, the Clinton’s were causing their party to lose control of congress for the first time in 40 years.

Then the government closed down, and political barnacles like Dick Morris came out of crevices to read Big Bill a riot act that would have him not only surviving the Republican storming of the Bastille, but looking like a mutated conservative doing it. Before long Newt Gingrich was another casualty of “the ring” and the sunny side of the economic street had unemployment down and the national debt being paid off like never before.

After all, Big Bill earned his executive wings with The Comeback, not one in particular, but a long line of beating the kind of truly savage odds Vegas junkies only dream about. A mere mortal would have been finished before his first limping campaign hit New Hampshire, but Bill Clinton survived, check that, thrived in the shit storm. Every cub reporter within ten feet of him had the makings of some hot story of rape, murder and embezzlement back then. Freelancers made a fortune on Bill Clinton; one of the hidden perks of his booming economy.

And those same freelancers came calling when word trickled that someone was coming clean on record about the chief. Man, those were the days of wine and roses for anyone calling journalism home. Chumps with three quotes and a flip pad could get credentials by the time Monica Lewinsky was done squawking into a tapped phone. Even people with no business commenting on politics made a descent living. Anyone in the press corps who weren’t goofy with excitement weren’t around long, because Bill Clinton was news, he breathed it in and expelled its virtues. It was all just rock and roll for Big Bill, not unlike Keith Richards’ statement about not having trouble with drugs, but cops. And Big Bill knew all about Keith Richards.

For me there is only one story worthy of explaining Bill Clinton.

During the height of his pending impeachment, Big Bill was on the golf course with Vernon Jordan when a call came from one of his lawyers about the grand jury transcripts, and after several minutes of stone-faced listening, the president answered, “You bet.” When queried on whether the news was bad or good, Clinton grinned and said, “Bad for me, which is how I like it.”

It was hard not to love that type of balls, no matter what you thought of William Jefferson Clinton. And I respected the demented will to go hard at every angle, despite being as guilty as a jackal in a hen house. But now Big Bill is literally history, and as Dick Nixon once mused, whoever writes the history will make the judgments. That was never Bill Clinton’s gig. He came, he saw, he banged it like a chubby intern. They only made one of his like. If there had been another, he would have found it and eaten it alive.

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