Bill Clinton is all over the place now, campaigning for Democratic candidates. He is their number-one draw, apparently. And he can go to places where President Obama is damaged goods, so to speak.
For the past year and a half or so, some conservatives have been experiencing Clinton nostalgia. The sentiment is expressed as follows: “Compared with Barack Obama, this flaming radical, ol’ Bill wasn’t so bad.”
Um, count me out, is all I’m saying. Watching Bill Clinton on the campaign trail this year has brought back the revulsion I once felt, those years ago, when Clinton was president. The bullying, the arrogance, the dissembling, the lying, the defaming. The refusal to regard Republicans or conservatives as people, with points to make. As opponents to be engaged and argued with.
(To be sure, Obama et al. exhibit the same mindset.)
Clinton’s perpetual line, of course, is that people are voting Republican this year, or thinking of doing so, because they’re “mad” — mad as in angry. The implication that goes with that is that the voters are mad in another sense, too: nuts, out of their minds. How could you vote Republican if you were a rationally thinking human being?
There was a bumper sticker once — probably still is: “I Think, Therefore I Vote Democrat.” If you say so yourself, schmuck.
Barney Frank, up in Massachusetts (unless you live north of there, of course!), is having a tough challenge, from a neat Republican named Sean Bielat. How tough is this challenge? Frank thought it wise to have Clinton come up and campaign for him.
In the Taunton High School gym, the former president said, “The only thing that really matters is, What are we going to do now? What are we going to do now, and who’s more likely to do it?” Okay, Bill. “If those were the questions the voters in this congressional district asked, Barney Frank would get 85 percent of the vote and we wouldn’t be here.”
Meaning, there would not even be a competitive race. There would be no need for a rally featuring the former president. There would not have to be this tedious old campaign — democracy and all that BS.
If only the voters had their heads screwed on right! If only they asked the right questions! Oh, why do you plebes waste my time with this need for a contest? Why should there be any argument at all? Why should there be a second party in this country!
More recently, Billy J. was out in Nevada, campaigning for Harry Reid. There, he was in another gym: that of Valley High School, in Las Vegas. I will quote a report from the Las Vegas Review-Journal: “Clinton said that ‘in a normal time’ Reid would be winning his re-election bid by 25 points and his GOP challenger Sharron Angle wouldn’t be an electoral threat to the incumbent.”
Again, that sense of entitlement: Why should we have to compete for our seats? Why don’t they just trust us, and reelect us automatically?
Said Clinton, “You and I know the only reason this is a tough race is because people are having a tough time. When people are mad, it’s time to think.”
Oh, I think they are.
Clinton then spoke of the horror of ads run against Senator Reid — ads by Republicans, against a Democrat! Can you imagine the effrontery? Said the 42nd president, “If you knew who’s giving the money, you would know that the ads weren’t true.”
Oh, really? And how’s that? Clinton did not elaborate (of course). He simply smeared.
But here is the pièce de résistance: The former president said about Angle, “This is a woman who doesn’t want women to have mammograms.” The Review-Journal commented, “Actually, Angle voted for mandating insurance coverage for mammograms when she was a Reno assemblywoman. But in general she opposes mandates because she says they increase the cost of insurance for everybody.”
“This is a woman who doesn’t want women to have mammograms.” Forget what you or I or Angle or Clinton might think about appropriate government policy. “This is a woman who doesn’t want women to have mammograms.” What a disgusting lie. And to think that Clinton was once president of the United States.
No, I don’t miss him at all. Count me out. I think I’d rather have Barack Obama for two terms than Billy J. for one. I think he probably has more honor, heaps more. We forget the never-ending stream of lies, the finger-wagging prevaricatin’ and fulminatin’. Yeah, he signed Republican welfare legislation, and a free-trade agreement, when he was running for reelection and “triangulating.” So?
I will have more to say about this in the next issue of National Review. (That’s not a promise, as a friend of mine would say, it’s a warning.) This little ’promptu has been just a taste. But let me finish with this:
Bill Clinton is not the worst of the lot, I acknowledge. I trust you won’t mind if I recycle a line from the 2000 campaign. I used to say, “I’d rather be locked in a discarded freezer with Bill Clinton for a year than have a brief, delicious lunch at the Four Seasons with Al Gore.”
UPDATE AND CORRECTIONS: The Las Vegas Review-Journal indeed quoted Clinton as saying, “This is a woman who doesn’t want women to have mammograms . . .” I subsequently found other reports that had a different and fuller quotation: “. . . this woman who doesn’t want women to have mammograms in their health-insurance policies . . .” That is a different thing: not quite honest and honorable, because Angle does not want women to be unable to have mammograms in their insurance policies; rather, she questions mandates. But it is less despicable.
Also, Clinton signed welfare reform, but not NAFTA, when he was running for reelection: He signed NAFTA in December 1993. Apologies.
‐What do Elizabeth II, the queen of Great Britain (I know her formal title is much longer), and Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, N.J. (I think that’s it, title-wise), have in common? I’ll tell you. The queen has just announced the cancellation of the Buckingham Palace Christmas party. The nation is on hard times, and all must tighten their belts.
In an earlier Impromptus, I praised Mayor Booker for his cost-cutting measures. For instance, they are not doing Christmas lights and angels and whatnot this year. He said, “Call me Mr. Scrooge if you want, but there’ll be no Christmas decorations around the city.” I commented in the following way:
You know, citizens — people — should put up Christmas decorations themselves. They can certainly do it around their own homes. How about in the city at large? Could maybe a civic group provide the decorations? But then, individuals, or a group, would need municipal permission, I’m sure.
Modern America can be such a headache, in its bureaucracy, not least.
Damn skippy. (I.e., “Darn right.”)
‐The other morning, I woke up on Capitol Hill — had spent the night with some friends. Then I went on a long, glorious walk, before returning to New York. Well, almost glorious. Let me tell you about a little encounter.
At the Supreme Court, I was about to walk up the steps, as I used to, when I lived in Washington. (I spent a semester of college there, and later some working years.) Before I got to Step 1, a guard at the top waved me off: saying, No, you can’t come up here.
Boy, things had changed. A post-9/11 thing? I remember when brides and grooms used to have their pictures taken on the steps of the Supreme Court, routinely. No more?
Anyway, I proceeded to the Capitol, and was about to walk along a certain route — when three officers, carrying big ol’ guns, stopped me. They said I had to go in a different direction. I said, “Sure, no problem.” Then, feeling chipper, I said, “You know, I just tried to go up the steps of the Supreme Court. But a guard stopped me. Things have really changed since I lived here! Have a great day.”
As I was walking away, I heard them talking about me — mocking and damning me: because I had referred to the uniformed man at the Supreme Court as a “guard.” “That ‘guard’ was a police officer,” one was saying, huffily and bitterly. I don’t know whether they meant for me to hear them or not, but I did.
After taking a few more steps, I turned around, gave a little shrug, and said, “Sorry.” To his credit, one of the officers gave me a thumbs-up.
Still, I burned a little bit. Look, that Supreme Court officer (or whatever he was)? He was a fairly long way away. It’s not like I could read his badge or anything. I just saw a figure in blue. Besides which, didn’t we used to have guards?
The more I thought about it, the more I burned: Was it really necessary for the guys at the Capitol to react as they did? Would they encounter a cheerier tourist than they had in me all day? I thought of a phrase: “Get over yourself.” (That applies to us all, of course.) I also thought, “Don’t they work for us, sort of?”
And I thought of Carly Fiorina. I remembered something she said, because I had just done a piece on the California Senate race. You know how Barbara Boxer asked that Army general not to call her “ma’am,” but to call her “senator” instead?
Well, Fiorina, riffing on that, told voters, “If you send me to Washington, you may call me ‘ma’am.’ You may call me ‘senator.’ You may call me ‘Carly.’ You may call me, ‘Hey you: Remember, you work for me.’”
I also thought of that wonderful line in the Austin Powers movie. Someone says, “So, Mr. Evil . . .” He replies, indignantly, “I didn’t spend six years in evil medical school to be called ‘Mr.,’ thank you very much!”
Okay, I’m done. It was just a little encounter — something to write about. A trifling to write about. And here is a memo to itchy-fingers: You don’t need to remind me about the importance, valor, and dignity of police officers. I like them too. And you don’t need to tell me that their work is often thankless (or worse). Preachin’ to the choir, baby. But thank you!
‐Walking along, I discovered that you can’t climb to the top of the Washington Monument. “Elevator only,” said the guard. (Ranger? Oh, life is dangerous, whenever you open your mouth, or tap on a keyboard.) I walked to the top, when I was a kid. (Walked to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, too! Don’t think you can do that anymore.) Also, in Washington, I knew a woman whose great-grandmother — or was it great-great? — had played in the Washington Monument, as it was going up.
That same girl was taken, by her father, to see the hanging of the Lincoln conspirators. The father thought that his daughter should see an example of justice: and of the punishment of evil.
‐Is there anything like the Lincoln Memorial? To me, no. It is just about the most satisfying and splendid place in America. I remember once I had some Indian-American friends visiting me. For some reason, a few of us stayed in the car — the van — while others went up to the memorial. I think it had to do with parking.
The family patriarch, Indian-born, and with a very, very keen sense of justice, came back excited — face aglow — and said, “He sits there as though daring anyone even to utter the word ‘discrimination’!” It reminded me to appreciate what Americans get lax about — e.g., the greatness, uniqueness, and indispensability of Lincoln.
Anyway, last week, I was glad to see the memorial spiffed up — clean, tidy, shining, well-nigh pristine. It can get shabby. I remember seeing the letters — the texts of the speeches, for example — all faded and dripping. (You know what I mean by that? Dripping like runny makeup.) Now they are dark and crisp.
And I continue to be stunned by those speeches: the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. Stunned by their power, beauty, wisdom, simplicity, truth (and political savvy). It’s almost as though they came not from the hand of man. These speeches are “enduringly relevant,” to use the cliché, too.
A few years ago, I wrote a review of the Library of America volumes of “great American speeches.” It was for The New Criterion, and may be found here. Allow me to quote the ending:
Is there a speaker who stands out from the rest? A speaker who may be deemed the best? Are you kidding? In 1962, President Kennedy assembled some fifty Nobelists, remarking, “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House — with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” Mr. Widmer [the editor, Ted Widmer] has given us the best collection of American speeches we have, with the possible exception of the collected speeches of Abraham Lincoln (published by the Library of America in 1989).
Lincoln is so far above the rest of us, we can barely see him. In American Speeches, he has seven entries, and they show his moral genius, his rhetorical genius, his political genius . . . They stagger the mind. If you’re looking for a heritage, take Lincoln, as a heritage all by himself.
‐I’m afraid the Vietnam Memorial hasn’t grown on me — I still think it’s a shame, expressive of shame. When the country first saw it, Phyllis Schlafly called it a “tribute to Jane Fonda.” Henry Hyde denounced it as a “political statement of shame and dishonor.” National Review — what a great magazine! — editorialized, “OK, we lost the Vietnam war. But American soldiers who died in Vietnam fought for their country and for the freedom of others, and they deserve better than the outrage that has been approved as their memorial.”
I think that is right. We are all supposed to cherish the Vietnam Memorial now: Bygones are bygones. The memorial is part of our “national tapestry” or whatever. Well, sorry: I can’t get with the program. I still think it stinks.
‐Care for a little music? This piece is in City Arts, and it’s about the opening concert of the Carnegie Hall season: the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, with Lang Lang, piano soloist.
‐Care for a little language — language mixed with comedy? I’ll explain what I mean. A critic friend of mine, Fred Kirshnit, said to me, “If the Phil. [the New York Philharmonic] wants to make money, why don’t they turn Avery Fisher Hall into a mall and sell crap to tourists?” This was after the Philharmonic premiered a new work by Wynton Marsalis. (Not that jazz master’s best effort, I’m afraid.)
I put this line in my “New York Chronicle,” to be published in the November New Criterion. I said to Fred, “I’m afraid that people will think I took out ‘sh**’ and put in ‘crap’ instead. But, honestly, ‘crap’ is a funnier and better word, certainly there.”
He wrote back to me, “Remember what the great Morey Amsterdam said about comedy: ‘Cucumber isn’t funny; pickle is funny!’”
I never knew it, but now I do. See you!