Monday, April 7, 2008

can Bill Clinton still feel our pain?

What happened to the man who once understood on a gut level what it felt like to be an average American stuck watching the political game?

Bill Clinton famously fought his way into the White House as someone who understood that Americans were hurting back in 1992. The inevitable recession after the military hyper-build-up of the Reagan years was a simple pocketbook issue, and his campaign made it a four-word slogan: It's the economy, Stupid!

But it was not the candidate's way to be so blunt and so crass. In town hall after town hall, in debate after debate, in stump speech after stump speech, Bill Clinton used a very different four word slogan that, while it did essentially get to the same point, got there in a much, much different, more gentle way: I feel your pain.

"I feel your pain," our would-be President assured us, and we listened eagerly. After four years of a Presidency by a decent but effete man who, with his absurdly wealthy family, could hardly be expected to understand our economic needs, the notion of a leader who was in touch with the things that troubled the people of this country appealed to something at our very core.

Many of us–the Republicans, anyway–thought we had it in Reagan, but the reality of his administration was that it divided the nation severely: his was a Presidency that appeared at once strong and empathic, but if you were not white and rich and conservative his strength and empathy did you little good. He always said it would "trickle down." And now, in the waning years of the administration of his VP, the first Bush, he was finally being proved correct: the weight of the incredible national debt he had rung up to defeat the Soviets was driving the nation to ruin, and the "pain" we felt as it "trickled" all over us is what put Bill Clinton in the White House.

Clinton was good at the whole empathy thing. He was always what he still is, of course: a ruthless and calculating politician. And I am not saying that there is anything wrong with that; politics is not a child's game. But Bill Clinton, from the carefully crafted colloquialism of his informal first name to the casual, off the cuff manner in which he delivered fully prepped speeches, played the game in a very new way: he may have been rough behind the scenes, but out in front of the cameras he was smooth as silk. Not for nothing did his detractors call him "Slick Willy." Cool under pressure, friendly and always possessed of that benign, empathic face, Bill Clinton was practically a dream politician.

If you don't count the fact that he had a bit of a problem with his zipper and another one with the truth.

But the thing is: he felt our pain, and as a result, when push came to shove and he went on the air and admitted that he had been dishonest with us, that he had misled us about Monica, we saw that he was contrite–whether he was or not–and we felt his pain. There is something almost miraculous about a President who is roundly hated by most of the opposing party, who is impeached, who admits to lying to the American public, who is constantly being investigated for one alleged scandal or another, but who ends up leaving office–after two terms–with a better than 60% approval rating. It was not for nothing they called him "the Comeback Kid," either.

Yes, Bill Clinton was fabulous at feeling our pain and we loved him for it (at least those who didn't hate him for other reasons). But right now, eight years later, I fear that his magic touch has left him. How else to explain the adamance with which he continues to attack Barack Obama? How else to explain the fact that he has not counseled his wife to stop sticking the knife into the back of the man who, inevitably, will be the party's nominee? How else to explain the fact that poll after poll tells us that the ugliness is not appreciated, but it keeps coming? He used to be so good with polls. If Bill Clinton could still feel our pain, wouldn't he be doubled over in agony somewhere right now?

Both Bill and Hillary Clinton are extremely intelligent. They are among the most intelligent people ever to run for President, I'm sure. I'm equally sure that they both can see the truth of this race as easily as any pundit or mathematician. Do they actually believe they can get the superdelegates to overturn all of what has come before? If this happened, then Bill would feel some real pain: the party would be ripped asunder. The Clintons know that, as much as Hillary knows better than to prop up the GOP nominee over her Democratic rival. As much as she knows better than to embellish and falsify stories for the campaign trail. As much as Bill knows better than to make remarks that diminish the importance of black voters in South Carolina, too.

The Clintons have been a valuable national resource since 1992. With Hillary in the Senate and Bill as a formidable ex-President, they still can be for many years to come. But in order for that to happen, both of them had better start to feel the pain they are causing to the party and by extension to the nation by their selfish actions. I'm not saying that Hillary should drop out. She has a legitimate cause. But she should immediately cease the ground war against Obama. It's not hurting him as much as it is hurting her and hurting the Democratic party. And it is hurting those of us who once believed in the Clintons and whose opinion of them has been dropping lower with each news cycle.

Hillary and Bill, please: listen to us. Feel our pain. Or, if you can't do that, stop running long enough to feel your own. You are doing severe damage to yourselves, to your reputations, and it will be irreparable before long, if it isn't already. Slow down and consider that. We'll all feel that pain, but it will be deepest right there, in you.


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it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be

Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
  • M*A*S*H
  • The West Wing
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show
  • Ally McBeal
  • Picket Fences
  • All In The Family
  • Seinfeld
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Star Trek
  • Firefly
  • Wonderfalls
  • Northern Exposure
  • Get Smart
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
  • Felicity
  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
  • Scandal
  • Fairly Legal
  • Girls
  • Don't Trust the B---
  • Justified
  • Portlandia
  • Psych
  • The Middle
  • Person of Interest
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
  • Glee
  • Haven
  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Colbert Report
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Leverage
  • Rachel Maddow Show

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