Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Yer so bad.... best thing I ever had

(A longtime fantasy complete: Bill Clinton at a Mets game.)

I was 12 when President Clinton was elected, and in many ways, his election was my full fledged graduation into the political life. Well, the winning political life, because I remember very clearly wearing my mother's "Dump Reagan" t shirt in 1984 and writing an oped for my third grade newspaper endorsing Michael Dukakis in 1998. As a side note, the opposing oped endorsing George Bush praised the sitting Vice President but admitted that didn't mean Dukakis was a "scumbag".

I'll admit that at 12 I didn't pay too much attention to the primary process; the most crystallized of memories of the 1992 campaign come from the SNL skits that parodied Paul Tsongas, Jerry Brown, Clinton, Bush, and H. Ross Perot. And along with the spotty memories of the political details came the spotty memories, and perharps purposefly spotty memories, of Clinton's personal "details". I dont remember paying much attention to the marijuana question, the draft dodging, or the women.

The reasons for that are pretty intuitive, I suppose; at 12 how morally discerning are you? So I either glazed over those things or didn't really notice them at all, and focused on the town he was from: Hope. Here was this man, who grew up poor just like me, and was smart, just like me, and had a chubby childhood, just like me, and was just elected President. Even now, six years after he left office, when I think of the things that his Presidency brought to bear, I don't think of policies or actions, wars or peaces; it's much more nebulous than all of that. I asked a friend recently what good she thought came out of Clinton's administration, and, without hesitation, said: "Hope."
Six years later my adoration was still true; there wasn't a man or woman inside or outside of politics that I respected and, ostensibly, idolized, than Bill Clinton. He had knocked back Republican leadership desperate to end his presidency and won a triumphant reelection campaign running on positivity. And still he believed in a town called hope.
My tried and true allegiance, however, buckled as impeachment advanced. It was now difficult to justify and equivocate the moral wrongdoings that we had all allowed to brushed under the carpet before; now he had lied to the American people, and forcefully so. From my narrow and selfish lenses, he lied directly to me. And watching his testimony where he played the eloquent and evasive master was like watching George Costanza. He believed he was right, just, and above it all. Bulletproof. And, just like Costanza, he had convinced himself that he was telling the truth: "It's not a lie if you believe it."
This betrayal, regardless of how it was so much not any of my business, hurt more than most things that have ever happened to me. That's sad within itself; I don't know this man and I will never know this man with the exception of a handshake at some future fundraiser. How could he hurt me more than my parents, friends, or girlfriends? I have no answer to that question except to say that he could. My idealism suffered its first blow, and in retrospect, probably its worst, at the hands of a man whom I trusted, and idolized, and idealized.
My thoughts often drift to Robert and John Kennedy, to Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, to Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. To true leaders who inspired actions, participation, and sacrifice. To good men, who, despite their moral flaws, led America through the dark and into the light. And in many ways Clinton's legacy will be defined by his flaws and not his successes; had he faced a foe like communism, nazism, or slavery, instead of his own demons and his political enemies, maybe the history books of the future would paint a different picture. Still, though, it is so very much disappointing that while our grandparents had FDR and our parents had JFK and RFK, we had Clinton. Just so disappointing.
But his mistakes and his disappointments withstanding, he is still able to move me. To inspire me, to motivate me, to remind me of hope. Of a story of hope; of perserverance and fire in the belly. Of charisma and oratory, of energy and compassion. When Clinton was President, there was never a moment where I doubted his ability to make things better. I doubted him as a man. Maybe that's my own flawed character needing and seeking perfection from a leader; I've convinced myself that his lying was what angered me and let me down and not the sex, but maybe it was his moral mistakes that did it. In my head, the President is supposed to be superior to me, and, ideally, superior to everyone. So these common man mistakes shook my ideals. They gave me so many doubts.
My thought process is a strange one. I've certainly never been an optimist, in fact I'm probably the furthest thing from an optimist without actually being suicidal. But my political idealism was always off that track; I believed in the ability of leaders and candidates. I had hope. I know that a lot of that died with Clinton, some more with Gore, and in a lot of ways, the final nail was President Bush's reelection in 2004. How are we supposed to be motivated for change when we can't exact it? And how can we trust our leaders again? Bill Clinton looked me right in the eye and lied to me. How does idealism survive?
All that being said, I still run to the television when he's making a speech or appearing on a television show. His picture still makes me happy and makes me long for a time when I had hope. Clinton, to me, has become an estranged parent; the father who always said the right thing but often did the wrong thing. In his case, words always spoke louder than actions; no matter what he did, I always came back home.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not sure if you thought about including this as a chapter in your book, but I recommend that you do.

- lupe

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

since i deserved and lost out on an important shout out here, i'd like to give myself one. i'm so awesome.

2:18 PM  

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