By now we’ve all had a chance to take a gander at the Clintons’ tax returns, and all I can say is that I’m proud to be a Democrat. Not since that poor Irish immigrant, Richard “Boss” Croker,” left the humble employ of Tammany Hall and retired to his horse farm in Ireland to breed Derby winners has the Party of the Little Guy paid off so spectacularly for a lifetime of “public service.” Talk about a Little Tin Box!
In the old days — say, way back in 1989 — everybody went into full high-dudgeon mode when the Cowboy (no, not Bush; the other one) went to Asia post-presidency and made a couple of speeches for a coupla mil. From the reaction, you would have thought Reagan had just turned over national-security secrets to the Chinese or something. And then Ronnie went back to his ranch, got Alzheimer’s and died.
But the Clintons changed all that. Not only has the Big He made piles of loot for himself, the little woman, the queen of England, the pope in Rome, and their twelve best friends, he’s also kept his big red nose planted firmly in the face of the American people, carping here, criticizing there, meddling to the best of his abilities, all the while trying to get his erstwhile helpmeet elected president of the United States, of all things.
And how did he do it? By inventing something that people want to buy? By coming out of nowhere to write a bestseller or a hot spec script? By putting Microsoft out of business? No, he did it by getting himself twice elected president with less than 50 percent of the popular vote, hanging on tenaciously despite calls from across the country for his resignation during the Starr Inquisition, and basically daring Trent Lott and Chief Justice Rehnquist, in full Gilbert and Sullivan drag, to convict him after the House impeached him. That made him a celebrity, and in this day and age…just spell my name right, baby.
Not for Bubba was Harry Truman’s example, putting on his fedora and going home to Bess in Independence, Mo. Or Ike’s retiring to Gettysburg. Or even Tricky Dick, stalking the beach at San Clemente in a sweaty blue serge suit and muttering darkly about the Jews. Whether gadding about the Middle East, showboating with his buddy Ron Burkle on private jets, or barking and wagging his fingers at reporters in South Carolina, Billy Blythe, the pride of the old gangster mecca of Hot Springs, Ark., has redefined the notion of a kosher post-presidency.
Which is why, out here in post-strike Hollywood, we’re for Obama.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like we’ve changed our minds about Monicagate; if we had to do it again, we’d do it again. Because we weren’t defending Clinton, we were defending, well… us. Our right to do whatever we want whenever we want and suffer absolutely no adverse consequences. Hey — we’re the guys who hate guns and violence and make movies about serial killers and sadistic torturers, but don’t blame us if some impressionable wing-nut yahoo takes us up on our suggestions and starts hanging women from meat hooks. That’s what free speech is all about.
The thing that Clinton established was not, as his wife, Nurse Ratched, would have it, that the personal is political; it was that political is now personal. And thus none of your business: Caught with your pants down in the Oval Office? Personal! Hiring your boy toy for a state job for which he was manifestly unqualified? Personal! Making dubious wire-transfers to your hooker’s prostitution agency? Personal! Using campaign funds to squire mistresses and maybe bed them down in a classy motel on the Upper West Side?
Personal! Personal! Personal!
You can practically feel our contemptuous spittle on your nasty, bigoted, right-wing faces, can’t you?
Of course, when the New York Times wants to run a story about McCain’s son, Lance Corporal James McCain, USMC, 19 — who by the way actually has served in Iraq — unlike, say, Chelsea Clinton — and the McCain family asks Pinch and Bill not to run it out of respect for the lad’s privacy, our side just laughs in their faces: don’t you Republicans realize the personal is political! But let a poor schnook like David Shuster obliquely criticize the Clintons for “pimping out” their 28-year-old daughter, and there’s hell to pay.
But now the Clintons have gone too far, and you know why? Because they don’t even pretend any more that they’re in “public service” for our own good. Instead, they blithely and unashamedly celebrate their own financial success, and at a time when gas costs nearly four bucks a gallon, the dollar is now worth what the peso used to be, and half the country is holding rent parties to make the mortgage.
From this hardscrabble hack writer’s point of view, though, that’s not the worst of it. Nobody pretends that Bill or Hillary or Socks the Cat got one of those gargantuan advances because of their ability to spin a gripping yarn, or their lapidary prose. (That would be me.) No, they got those advances because they were already famous. Or infamous, same thing. Because even though the publisher knows there’s not a snowball’s chance in Bill’s undershorts that the company is ever going to get its money back, it doesn’t matter. Think of it as insurance against the day the Clintons return to public service. Let’s just hope they don’t start scribbling screenplays.
Any way you look at it, we’re at the Dawn of a New Paradigm. We tend to think that only millionaires can afford to run for office, and that’s still partly right. But now we have the example of the Clintons, folks who entered politics poor and came out the other rich. Guys that started with nothing, with alcoholic stepfathers and good-time mamas and yet by dint of hard work and a few shady friends in influential places managed to get into prestigious Ivy League schools and then get elected to high office.
And then left it, to get really, really rich, basically by just being their glorious, shameless selves. I mean, Bill “writes” a “book” called Giving, earns $6.3 million, and manages to give a measly million to charity. The rest went — well, who knows where?
You’d think the Clintons were Republicans, or something.
— David Kahane is the nom de cyber of a Hollywood screenwriter. You can write to him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org