William Jefferson Clinton watched the two cheerleaders give him a manicure, and realized he missed Rush Limbaugh. The man was always good for a laugh, particularly when he played Hillary’s cackle over and over, or Farrakhan going off about the mothership. The reenactment of the Fairness Doctrine had closed down Rush, and the rest of the talkers who wouldn’t dance to the new tune. You could spin the dial for an hour and never hear anything that got your blood pumping.
He stared at cheerleaders, the white one sawing away at the nails on his left hand, the black one working on the left. Their tight sweaters said Ruth Bader Ginsberg High School, class of 2012. The Tennessee Education Commission had renamed the school two years ago, changed it from Ronald Reagan High and the locals still hadn’t gotten over it. Part of the reason he had been sent down here to Mecklenburg for the grin and grab. Tomorrow he hit two Baptist church pancake breakfasts, a Rotary luncheon, and a Boy Scout banquet that evening. There was an election in November and the party needed every vote to be counted.
The black cheerleader looked up as he started laughing. “You okay?”
“My grampa said you’re the best president we ever had,” said the white cheerleader, stropping away at his hand.
He nodded at the stack of photos of himself in hunting gear. “Would you like me to autograph a picture for him?”
The white girl shook her head. “Grandpa died last year.”
“Oh… well, would you like one for yourself?” he said.
“That’s okay,” she said.
The TV in the corner of the cramped, high school dressing room had the sound off, but he still flinched when Barry … President Obama and Michelle came onscreen. Follow Us to the Promised Land floated just below their smug faces. Their daily inspirational hour broadcast live to the American people. Michelle had taken a rolled-up newspaper to the FCC right after the inauguration and that had been that.
“Switch it off,” he growled. “I’ve been to the Promised Land and it’s over-rated.”
The black cheerleader dropped his hand. “You’re done.”
The white one did the same. “You coming out to talk soon?”
“A few minutes,” he said. “I wanted to let the excitement build.”
“What do you mean?” said the white one.
“I’ll … I’ll be out shortly.” He sat back in the chair after they closed the door, hanging on to the armrests, his head pounding. The cheerleaders had ignored him, left the TV on, and there was Barry … the president grinning away while he clapped his hands, and Michelle, as usual, looking like she wanted to slap somebody, anybody.
Nothing on the tube but those two, and nothing on radio but Air America from sea to shining sea, the bad-news-and-it’s-your-fault radio network. Some girl in Salt Lake fell and skinned her knee, the American people and their past leaders had failed her, past leaders meaning him, Willie Boy, Elvis, the Big Him. Like he should have installed marshmallow sidewalks or given away bubble wrap pants. He absently rubbed the I’m Sorry button in his lapel. Well, he might be wearing the button, but he wasn’t sorry.
Rush Limbaugh wasn’t sorry either. After he got bounced off the U.S. airwaves, Rush had set up a pirate station in the Bahamas, a real blowtorch, powerful enough to reach across the country. It had been a problem for a while, then Barry had stationed the coast guard up and down the whole east coast to jam the broadcasts. Cost a lot of money, but there was plenty now since Barry cut the defense budget by 2/3 after the Iranians promised to play nice. Must be nice to be able to get that through congress. He had slashed the military too, but the republicans squealed like feeder pigs before a luau. Barry … President Obama just blathered something about hope and everybody on both sides of the aisle swooned. Hope we can be friends. Hope we can trust you to keep your word. Hope we don’t get attacked. Hope this.
He checked his reflection in the smudged mirror. Ran a hand through his hair. Didn’t look right … all flattened down on one side. He used to travel with his own hair stylist, woman who used to work on Leo DiCaprio, for gracious sake. Now he got a quick comb-through from a high-school drama teacher and they sent him out with his cowlicks stuck down with a gob of spit. Heck of a world.
He blamed Hillary. Bad enough she had lost the election, but what was worse, she had won the divorce. So much for community property, she got just about everything, all thanks to that friend of the court brief filed on Hillary’s behalf by Associate Justice Gloria Allred. Hillary got the cash, the stock, the house in D.C. and the one in that town upstate New York which he could never spell right. He got his presidential pension and a free pass to his own library in Little Rock. Big Whoop. Especially since the tax rates had been bumped up to sixty percent.
Immediately after the divorce, the foreign speaking gigs dried up, and the hedge fund boys booted him off their corporate boards. Oh, he missed the money, but even more than that, he missed the attention, the five-star hotels, the sense of . . . specialness. No more Air Force One, no more parades, no more weeks at Gstaad with George Soros and the fellahs. It had been months since Anderson Cooper called to chat, and Spielberg didn’t bother sending a birthday card this year. Even his Secret Service detail has been narrowed to one old timer with an arthritic hip and a couple of trainees.
He pinched his cheeks to rosy them up, but he still looked pasty. He should have asked the cheerleaders if they had any blusher he could borrow.
Hard times. He had been groggy when he got that call from Barry . . . from President Barack at 7.00 AM, if you can believe that. Probably just finished a dawn Pilates class or something, while he had been up half the night scarfing Dominos and watching a Barbara Streisand marathon on Channel 13. It had taken a few minutes for Barry’s . . . President Barack’s offer to sink in. Outreach Ambassador to the Heartland. Hillary had sneered at the honor, of course, muttered something about Barry Hussein crowning him King of Bubbaland, but she was still nursing her wounds after blowing the nomination.
Boo hoo. Like he didn’t take a gigantic hit himself. If she had made it, they both would have gotten their dream. She would be leader of the Free World and he would have all the perks of the presidency without any of the boredom. Lunch with Harry Reid? Sorry, pal, my schedule is full. The Bernanke’s request the pleasure of . . . love to, Ben, but I’m on my way to show the flag at the Cannes Film Festival. When the super-delegates stabbed Hillary in the back, they drew blood from him too. Like he always said, put some ice on it and move on.
Besides, the party needed somebody to reach out to regular folks, somebody who could talk the talk, because Barry sure couldn’t do it. Man ate fried chicken with a napkin wrapped abound the leg so he didn’t get grease on his fingers. He had seen him do it. President Daintyfingers and Princess Ticked-Off. They had barely beaten John McCain. This time . . .
Not that his job as Heartland Ambassador didn’t carry some risks. He patted his ample belly. Getting pretty jowly too. He had put on over 30 pounds since his appointment. Seems like every group he talked to served nothing but barbeque, mashed potatoes, and peach cobbler — his three favorite food groups. His cholesterol spiked higher every day, while the president and First Lady stayed sleek as minks, never missing a chance to flaunt themselves at the “Fat is More Dangerous than Terrorism” rallies that Nancy Pelosi organized. Which, as White House press secretary Chris Mathews put it, effectively made Bill the new Osama bin Laden. Ha ha.
No justice. Hillary was a New York senator for life, and last week he was asked to show I.D. before they’d cash his check at the Baskin Robbins in Martha’s Vineyard. Meanwhile, George W., a.k.a., the luckiest man alive, lounged around his oceanfront hacienda in Mexico, fished for marlin, and blasted around the blue Pacific in his speedboat. Nights, he and Laura, who still looked hot hot hot, watched his baseball team, the Monterey Reconquistas. No problemo for that hombre. George W.’s biggest concern was that Dan Rather was going to go off his meds again, coming ashore in a wetsuit and flippers, holding a conch shell aloft and screaming he had finally found the evidence. If the facts don’t fit, you must acquit, Danno.
He pulled out his I-Phone, tried to catch Limbaugh’s latest on the web, but the new NASA filters were blocking it out. Dangit, he missed Rush. One time, Hillary had walked in on him in the Oval Office — no, not that time — and caught him listening to Rush. He had his feet up on the desk, smoking a stogie and just roaring as the Maha Rushy tore into the two of them. Funny stuff. If you can’t laugh at yourself . . . and, truth be told, the man was right about most of it, heck everyone knew that. Hillary though, she started screaming, why are you listening to that maniac? He tapped the ash off his cigar and turned the radio down a little as Rush took a call from Rita X. Just keeping track of the enemy, honeykins, he had said, and besides, you expect me to listen to NPR? Evidently she did.
A kid with a spray of pimples across his chin peeked in the door to the dressing room. “You coming out, Mr. Clinton? Folks are getting a little antsy.”
“It’s President Clinton. Or Ambassador Clinton.”
The kid sniffed. “Whatever.”
He stood up. “Carry out that box of photos for me, would you?” He reached into his pocket, pulled out one of the new I’m Sorry pins. “This is for you, son.”
The kid looked at it. “Sorry for what?”
“I don’t know . . . slavery, skin privilege –”
“I’m black, in case you haven’t noticed,” said the kid.
“African American,” he corrected him, then started again from the beginning. “Slavery, skin privilege, middle-classness, Israel enabling, bamboozling . . . pretty much everything.” He held out the pin. “It’s Michelle’s . . . it’s the First Lady’s big idea. You wear it and it shows you support the president’s reelection.”
“I didn’t do anything,” said the kid, still not taking the pin.
He put his arms across the kid’s shoulders, gave him a squeeze. “You’ll think different after I give my talk, son. Now let’s go out there and bring the joint down.”
“You mean the gymnasium?” said the kid.
President William Jefferson Clinton pushed open the door, feeling the electricity tingle up from his toes as he strode toward the gym. Strike up the band, boys, the real Man from Hope had arrived.
– Robert Ferrigno is author, most recently, of Sins of the Assassin.