Friday, April 11, 2008

I liked Bill Clinton... Then I grew up... On selling out and lying as politics as usual...

Once upon a time, I thought highly of Bill Clinton. Sure, I had a few reservations about him. Overall, though, I liked the guy. Then I grew up.

It was easy to look past Bill's more highly-publicized shortcomings. He screwed around. He lied about it. I never felt his carnal urges had much of a bearing on his ability to lead the country. I could put myself in his shoes and imagine myself fibbing under oath and parsing definitions of "sexual relations" to stay out of bigger trouble. The guy bullshitted everyone about Monica and is other assignations but, even as a non-cheater, I could let it slide.

I also looked past his tendency toward triangulation and his willingness to play political hardball in pursuit of his objectives. The means were often stinky, but I often agreed with the desired ends. Even when I disagreed with him on the nuts and bolts of policy, I was willing to accept his techniques because I understood that's "how the game is played".

I even developed a kind of respect for Bill Clinton. I was impressed with the way he could weather controversy. I was astonished by his ability to charm his way out of situations that would doom most politicians.

I think I also liked Bill because the people who were "out to get him" were usually people with whom I disagreed on issues. I, like others, sort of rallied behind Clinton because I despised his foes. Those asshats were more evil and conniving than Bill, but they weren't as good at the game. And, in my estimation, they were on the wrong side.

I liked Bill Clinton. Then I grew up.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that the means were just as important--if not more important--than the ends. I lost my appetite for the fruits of the diseased tree. Winning is important, but the way one wins is just as significant.

I began to understand that the political climate that has produced our current pandering, dishonest, secretive and power-driven government exists because ideas like right, wrong, truth, cooperation and intellectual honesty are secondary to finding a way to "win". Bill Clinton was one of the best players of The Game of the Damned. He wasn't any different than the scumbags who tossed honesty overboard to go after him. He was just better at playing the game.

And that was enough for me, once upon a time. I felt compelled to choose between the jerks on my side and the jerks on the other. I made that choice. Luckily, the big enchilada among my jerks was very talented.

The problem? No one should make that choice. We shouldn't be limited to choosing between two camps of dummies. We shouldn't accept lying and sleaze as an inevitable part of our politics. We should aspire for something better. We should support the idea of government that serves our interests honestly. We must stop compromising the integrity of means in hopes of getting a desired end. If we don't, we end up with more of the same shit none of us really like in the first place.

After all, what did Bill Clinton really give America? Now that time has passed and we can assess his legacy with a little more clarity, what can we say about Bill? The Clinton years were better than the Bush years. That's a given with me. Fine. But what about the bigger picture? We have a fractured politics that continues to center itself on silly and intellectually bankrupt left/right battles that are primarily show biz designed to score votes and backers from relatively discrete small demographic groups. We have a continuing tradition of shitting on honesty and truth in pursuit of desired ends. We have a government people don't trust. Those policy initiatives? Some failed. Some worked. Many are dismantled. Some are now irrelevant as the world changes.

So many of us sold out our decency and integrity because we wanted Bill to get his policies in place. They didn't fundamentally change or better America. They weren't worth the price. We carry the baggage of individual shame for smiling at James Carville because he was on our side when Bill was on the ropes. We tote the guilt of playing a dirty game just because we wanted to win. And all it really did was to enable more of the same from the folks with whom we disagreed.

We dumped more sewage in our front yards in hopes of keeping the heating bills low inside. It was a shitty trade, really, because it merely continued a despicable cycle.

I was down with Bill. Then I grew up.

They say that idealism is just for kids. I don't think so. I think it's valuable. I also believe, that in the long run, it's the only thing that makes sense.

We know what happens when we continue to dabble in corruption and when we embrace assholes in pursuit of temporary goals. It taints us and it locks us into an endless cycle of twisted deals, cheap shots, lies and disgusting abandonment of principles. It locks those with whom we disagree into the same pattern.

Kids may be idealistic, but that's not because they're stupid. It's because they haven't yet sold themselves out for the sake of convenience. Idealism is what you have before you decide to compromise your integrity. It's what you can get when you decide not to play along with the bullshit.

Today, I saw Bill Clinton on television. He was talking about Hillary's tall tale about her visit to Bosnia. He's older now, but he still has some charm. He still turns on that "aw shucks" voice and spins nonsense with great dexterity.

He said Hillary's lies about her visit to Tuzla weren't a big issue. She didn't "rob a bank". She was brave to go--the first First Lady to land in a combat zone since Eleanor Roosevelt. She was just tired and pushing 60 when she told that story. Cut her some slack. It was something that happened one time, late at night, and she apologized for the error right away. No big deal, people. Nothing to see here. Move along. It wasn't a fish story, it was just a sleepy-time goof.

It was vintage Bill Clinton. He was covering up one exaggeration with another lie. He did it with a smile and personality. That stuff used to work for me. Oh, I saw through it, but I accepted it. I didn't want my guy going down and I was cool with him playing fast and loose with the truth to avoid the consequences of his mistakes. That was before I grew up.

Today, I saw Bill a little differently. I saw a guy who is so accustomed to playing in the gutter that he's unwilling to attempt honesty--even with respect to a fairly trivial issue. That's bad enough. What makes it even worse is that Bill knows he's full of shit. He's a smart guy. He's not lying out of habit or stupidity. He's lying because he's learned just how well it works. A little charm, a little mockery, a bit of self-deprecation. Toss it on top of some bullshit and the folks will swallow it. They always do. Those who know better will still play along, because they like Bill. It's simple.

It used to work for me. Until I grew up.

Hillary didn't "misspeak" once about Bosnia. She told the tall tale on multiple occasions. She didn't just repeat the lie late at night during fits of exhaustion. She wasn't having a "senior moment". She was trying to spin a goodwill mission to Bosnia as evidence of Commander in Chief qualifications and she had to lie to do it. Why not? It always works. Just ask Bill. Go back and watch the tapes of her telling the Tuzla Tale. Her body language is a little different. Her voice has a different tone. She's channeling Bill and all of the other bullshit artists who've polluted our politics.

Hillary wasn't the first First Lady to put boots on the ground in a danger zone. Pat Nixon went to Saigon. Hillary didn't immediately apologize for the lie. She never apologized. She said she misspoke. That's it. She lied because the value of honesty, in her estimation, was less than the potential political value of telling the lie. She didn't misspeak. She miscalculated.

And Bill is out there campaigning in the midwest, trying to cover the lie with enough crap to bury it forever. It used to work. He's done it before. This time, though, it's not working. I've grown up. I wish he would, too, because he's a smart guy who could accomplish so much more if he'd step out of the cesspool for a few minutes. He could be valuable. That's not what I'm seeing, though.

I don't see a good guy trying to get good things done who is just playing the game with skill. I see the symptoms of the disease that's disabling our government. I'm seeing the single-minded pursuit of one crew's ends with absolutely no consideration for the ends involved in getting there. It's the sell-out again and I'm not letting it slide anymore just because I liked Bill Clinton.

I grew up.

The good news? It seems like others are growing up a little, too. Perhaps 8 years of watching an amateur bullshit artist try to ply the same trade has convinced us that it's time for something a little less grotesque. Maybe Bill's just losing a step as he ages. Maybe we've seen Hillary, a horrible liar if there's ever been one, butcher the art of crap-slinging so much that we're better able to recognize it. Maybe we're just tired of watching this game played out year after year with nothing to show for it but good zinger soundbites and a few scars.

I don't know, but I do know that it doesn't seem to be working the way it used to. It almost seems anachronistic. I'm hoping we're all burned out on it. I'm just hoping the end is approaching for this kind of crap.

We don't have to hold hands and sing together. We don't have to agree about everything. We aren't even required to be nice to one another. We should, however, have enough courage to confront issues honestly and to debate them with some semblance of intellectual integrity. We should 'fess up to our lies and exaggerations instead of compounding the dishonesty with more of the same. That goes for all of us. I'm not just picking on Bill here.

I've been reading reactions to Bill's comments on The Tall Tale of Tuzla and it appears as though most people--on both sides of the so-called spectrum--aren't buying what Clinton was selling. That's a good sign, I think.


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  1. Good 'un. I don't think many Hillbots realize that Bill was popular at the end of the term not because Americans didn't think he was a lying sleazebag, but rather because the lying sleazebags opposing him were even more odious.

  2. joshua-

    yeah, i think you're right. it was all "lesser of two evils" thinking, in my estimation.

    personally, i'm interested in getting rid of as much evil as possible from the get-go.

    yours truly,

    john brown
    terrorized by the ghost of john ritter

  3. Very nice article. I've long seen the Clintons as being completely disingenuous, expert manipulators (as many lawyers are). It amazes me how many times they have attempted to take a story that casts a serious shadow on their credibility and spin it. They don't merely try and squirm their way out of it, but either try and cast it in a positive light or even use it as blunt weapon to any that stand in their way.

    Here's the major problem with politics as I see it. I'm a Ron Paul supporter, and while I don't agree with some parts of his platform, he's given me little reason to doubt his sincerity. He may bluster and stammer his way through sentences sometimes, but at least you can tell it's in an attempt to voice his inner convictions. With many politicians, as with the Clintons, their most fervent belief is that they deserve public office, and will do anything to achieve that end. I sometimes wonder if Hillary peed in the Oval Office to mark her territory.

    Anyhow, there are candidates out there that speak candidly, about themselves, real issues, and the future of our country. Somebody like Jesse Ventura comes to mind; perhaps rough around the edges, but true to himself. If you ask me, the Clintons don't have a sense of self, just the forward-thinking glitter of their own ambition. Thankfully, there's Barack Obama.

    Ron Paul has made his mark in the political process, and hopefully has inspired others to look into the core issues of our very government, but it's obvious that he cannot win. Ron Paul is the first REAL Republican in many years, and no, I did not vote for Bush either term. McCain has shown that he's more than willing to continue Bush's legacy, policing the world and driving the U.S. into economic despondency. Barack Obama, however, has shown himself to be inspiring and upstanding, and does not parse his words or avoid confrontation about himself or his beliefs. While I certainly believe in limited government and eradicating wastefulness, and Obama may compound that problem, I think he would be a quite capable leader of people, which our country needs more than anything right now. As a Republican, I'm fairly ashamed by our party, so in my eyes, Obama is the only viable choice in '08.

  4. Mark-

    You've screwed this whole thing up. Don't you know that all Paul-backers are supposed to be over-caffeinated simpletons with mental disorders? Your post blows that stereotype to hell, as it contains a modicum of sanity.

    I'm not a Paul backer for a variety of reasons, but I do have respect for his willingness to take and defend positions based on his convictions.

    Now, that's probably easier when you have about zero chance of actually winning than if the White House is nearly within your reach, but it's still a very admirable quality.

    It's one reason why I'm in Barry's camp. He's a lot closer to the ideal than the realistic alternatives.

    Thanks for reading and representing for Paul like a champ.

    Yours truly,

    John Paul
    Serial No. 2494-99-072

  5. In 1996, the Clintons were featured guests at Washington's Ford Theater (yes, the same place where Lincoln was shot from behind) for a comedy benefit special.
    Paula Poundstone (who was still popular at the time) was just a few minutes into her act, when she went impromptu and (as the cameras switched from her to the President) personally greeted the President, "Mrs. President" (brief laughter) and all the Secret Service staff seated around them in a tight circle.
    But, she wanted to know, who was that elderly male stranger seated right behind Bill (inside the Ford Theater)? (I'd never seen him before, either.)
    Clinton replied, "Don't go there."
    Paula rallied the crowd to get him to tell us who the important, trusted, unknown man was.
    Bill finally relented; "He owns Chiquita banana."
    So, this is the guy who owns all the land. This is the guy we're not supposed to know is this close to the President. This is the guy we spent all our time and money and troops on Nicaragua, Sandanistas, Oliver North, shredded documents, Congressional hearings, Iran-Contra, got Bush Senior into all that trouble, who knows what else, etc.
    We're not supposed to know this guy even exists, much less that he's a special friend to the President (and clearly, he doesn't play sides or Reagan-Bush wouldn't have been so eager to help him, too).
    So THAT's where my money goes -- to keep this guy's business from being turned over to the people who do all the work and have lived on the land for centuries.
    Quick -- cut to commercial, and Paula's gone.

  6. Anon-

    Interesting story. I might look into that some time.

    You know, at one point I probably would've sorta chuckled at Slick Willie pulling that off. Now, I'm beyond those apologetics.

    Thanks for the contribution.

    Your homeboy,

    John Brown
    Fear Merchant