Why I'm Still Angry

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LANCE MORROWAsian epigraph to The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald used an oddly charming snatch of verse:Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,Till she cry Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,I must have you!Behold Bill Clinton: still wearing the gold hat, still bouncing high. What do we say about the lover now that he's in midair again, performing his gaudy twirls and flips? What do we say to ourselves as we watch? What do we do with the emotional residue of this business? The great 65%--Clinton's invincible bodyguard--are they happy? Relieved? Or merely exhausted? What do the rest of us do with our anger?I find that I feel an unwholesome fury. I try to talk myself down from it by thinking good thoughts about Clinton--his complexity, his political gifts, his good heart, as I used to believe. It cannot be good for my own heart to harbor these toxins--frustration, a sense of outraged justice, contempt.Mine is an outrage uncontaminated by ideology. I voted for Clinton in 1992, and basically agree with his instinct for the commonsense center of American politics. I am not a vast right-winger, and I do not hate Arkansas. My contempt wells up from an irrational, nonpolitical source. It reciprocates something that I sense at Clinton's core--what must be an essential contempt for the American people.Surely such contempt is validated and deepened now when he sees how unfailingly his tricksterism gets him through--a lechering Bugs Bunny who, at the end of this ghastly cartoon, flourishes a cigar instead of a carrot. (Henry Hyde, having taken over the Elmer Fudd role from Ken Starr, slumps off, looking perplexed.) I tell myself to get beyond this miasma--to think of the future. I will get over it ... but not for a while. I try to think about forgiveness but am brought short by the knowledge that it requires repentance, and Clinton is congenitally unrepentant. Fish gotta swim; birds gotta fly.PAGE 1  |  
If I stare too long at that 65% in the polls, I feel as if I inhabit someone else's country. Liberal Democrats felt that way in 1984 after the Reagan landslide. How to get over it? Sometimes rage can be appeased by historical perspective. Maybe not this time. Instructed by Toni Morrison's conceit that Clinton is our first black President, I compare him to Martin Luther King Jr. King plagiarized parts of his doctoral thesis and was a relentless womanizer. So far, so good. But King was one of the half dozen greatest Americans; he worked with the nation's fatal realities and died--as he knew he would--to change them. I suspect that if Clinton ever thought his ideas, such as they are, would put him in danger, he would drop them and flee at the speed of light. Clinton has had his moments, but an awful lot of his tenure smacks of a Renaissance Weekend's theater of illusion, sleight-of-hand performed for an audience that is being looked after by someone backstage--Alan Greenspan.I flee to relief in humor, but it is a bitter, jeering kind. Clinton will remain a laughingstock of e-mail and late-night television unless and until he bombs another pharmacy. That will only turn the humor darker. I try to recapture my old admiration for the man. But why do I sense that sunny, lucky, lip-biting Bill Clinton, with his shoeshine and smile, is not merely a figure of occasional dark possibilities but fairly sinister in his essence? The root of the trouble lies in the intuition that at bottom he is incapable of thinking about anyone but himself. And that he has no honor--none.He is not an uncomplicated character, and he has fascinating qualities--a genius at political campaigning, for example. (I grapple desperately to recover the better side.) But my fury sees only that his seducer's gift of nuanced empathy makes him a liar worthy of Oscars (I want you to listen to me, I'm going to say this again ...) and that his every word is coated with Vaseline.Perhaps I am wrong about all this. Maybe when we return to the ordinary business of the country, he will seem less sinister. Maybe his real service to America lies ahead, and he will save Social Security and fashion a redeeming legacy.And so we will bump along toward the bogus destination called closure. The two parties will resume their Balkan comity; Republicans may even learn not to think liar every time the President speaks. And after my indignation stops screaming, perhaps I can learn to be civil as well. My fury will burn itself down to coals and ashes. But thanks to Bill Clinton, something in public life seems changed--and something else permanently lost.  |  2