It's the Stupidity, Stupid: Why (Some) People Hate Clinton and why the Rest of Us Have to Watchby Harry Shearer
"In the aftermath of, shall we say, certain events, it seems almost cretinous to ask why some people hate the forty-second president of the United States. Bill Clinton let down his friends and followers and subordinates, caused no end of legal fees to many of them, and, more ominously, made it possible for William Bennett to unleash upon the public yet another
"In the aftermath of, shall we say, certain events, it seems almost cretinous to ask why some people hate the forty-second president of the United States. Bill Clinton let down his friends and followers and subordinates, caused no end of legal fees to many of them, and, more ominously, made it possible for William Bennett to unleash upon the public yet another bilious stream of self-righteous posturings. . . ."
But there's more there than meets the eyewitness news. Now, in this shrewd, on-target, wickedly funny book, Harry Shearer unbuckles the Beltway to examine why, of all people, Bill Clinton has inspired such profound and persistent loathing in a sufficient number of Americans to propel his presidency to the "kinda like Nixon" section of the history books.
Is it because our leader hides behind women's skirts? is seen as a traitor to his race by his southern compatriots? represents the immoral Woodstock generation to those who have fond memories of the depression? Shearer investigates every avenue (and back alley) and, along the way, debunks Hillary's vast right-wing conspiracy theory ("A conspiracy by its nature should be a fairly tightly controlled operation, like the Mafia or Scientology"), explores the animosity inspired by lawyers and journalists, and asks the question on everyone's lips: Is there any real difference between sucking a prostitute's toes and being a news analyst for Rupert Murdoch?
Read an Excerpt
In the aftermath of, shall we say, certain events, it seems almost cretinous to ask why some people hate the forty-second president of the United States. Bill Clinton let down his friends and followers and subordinates, caused no end of legal fees to many of them, and, more ominously, made it possible for William Bennett to unleash upon the public yet another bilious stream of self-righteous posturings. Bennett, whose advocacy of mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders necessitated a cell-clearing release of thousands of murderers and rapists, remains the most dangerous man in America, a neo-Puritan gasbag who'd organize witch burnings if he didn't fear that proximity to flame might tempt him to resume his longtime cigarette habit.
Clinton, smart enough to be a Jeopardy champion, couldn't figure out that the rules governing public figures had changed since the heyday of JFK and his molls, and through his recklessness (and the insatiably prurient curiosity of his detractors, of which he was ever aware) he introduced a generation of subteens to the ideas of fellatio and sex toys years before their mothers were prepared to tell them to ask their fathers. He and his supporters helped make sexual harassment a highly profitable new area of legal practice, and then he chose as his sex partner the least powerful, least credentialed woman cleared into his official compound. And certainly Clinton, who derived great popularity from crusading for years against the tobacco industry, should have anticipated the negative publicity attendant on using a cigar as an erotic implement.
His recent stupidity has been appalling, almost as much so as the stupidity heexhibited in the halcyon days of health-care reform. Back then, you may recall, he sent the missus out for a well-regarded week of congressional testimony, then retired from the field of public contention while the insurance industry blanketed the airwaves with commercials featuring the frightened and frightening Harry and Louise. The president behaved as if in the big leagues the opposition wilts once the votes have been counted, as if the cozy one-party politics of Little Rock had moved up to D.C. along with the Clintons and the Tyson chicken gang. "Smart people acting stupid" may well be the epitaph of this administration. Hillary Rodham, after all, helped draft the rules for considering the last presidential impeachment.
The most-hated presidents of this century up to now have been Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. FDR, whose marriage may yet turn out to be the template for the Clintons' (he and Eleanor both had girlfriends), ran on a platform of balancing the budget to cure the Depression, then did a one-eighty once in office, importing fifty-year-old European reforms such as Social Security and unemployment insurance in a desperate attempt to keep the economy from flatlining until a war could apply the paddles to its ticker. Nixon, who lacked the social skills to be an undertaker, left a landscape of savaged careers under his personal career ladder. After a quarter century of calling anyone unfortunate enough to get in his way a Communist, a pinko, a fellow traveler, or part of the conspiracy to "lose" China to the "Reds," he became a foreign-policy sage by recognizing that China was, in fact, run by the Communists, and made the world safe for his secretary of state Henry Kissinger to become the Reds' chief lobbyist. Bo
th men stood for something, even if it was something diametrically opposed to the ideologies upon which they built their careers.
Truman, until his recent elevation to the Mt. Rushmore waiting room, was reviled as a hick not worthy to shine Roosevelt's wheels. Eisenhower, whose geniality was widely believed to exceed his intelligence, was the laughingstock of smarties who delighted in the incoherence of his press-conference ramblings. Kennedy let Martin Luther King Jr. and Earl Warren take the brunt of the ambient hatred that suffused his era. Lyndon Johnson was despised for backing his way into a war that, as it turns out, neither he nor his defense secretary believed in. Only later did we learn that the "hallowed Oval Office," now being cited as the victim of Clintonian degradation, was the place where LBJ invited hapless Cabinet members to join him in a trip to the bathroom, where they had to watch him defecate while policy options got thrashed out.
Gerald Ford won scorn for pardoning Nixon, and pity for being shot at. Only as a money-grubbing ex-president has he qualified for true obloquy, but nobody notices.
Reagan infuriated his opponents in a way that has recent echoes. The more he was revealed to be a genial napper whose meetings with other officials were dominated by his show-business anecdotes, the more the public liked him. I was at a dinner party late in Reagan's second term with a network White House correspondent who regaled the table with the most recent evidence that the president had what the Tower Commission memorably described as a "hands-off management style." After about fifteen minutes of this, a liberal comedian at the table exploded beyond the bounds of genial banter. "How come," he demanded of the journalist, "you don't put this stuff on TV?" The correspondent looked at the comedian as if he were nuts. "Because," he intoned in his best network voice, "we read the polls. The public doesn't want to hear it." Subordinates, like Reagan's attorney general ("Experts Agree, Meese Is a Pig" proclaimed a T-shirt) and his interior secretary (who seemed to believe the only species worth preserving was Ch
ristianus bornagainus), attracted all the venom.
Bush carried the suspicions of the CIA-distrusters into office with him, and earned the contempt of tax-cutting Republicans when his thin parson's lips betrayed him.
But, aside from FDR and Nixon, none of the presidents within living memory inspired dogged, persistent, indefatigable movements to get their asses out of the White House. Bill Clinton, somehow, managed to join this select company.
Yet much of the contempt for Clinton, outside the coterie of the true haters, has been rooted in his pathos. Why didn't he pick great-looking, accomplished women for his conquests? Jack Kennedy proved, after all, that the presidency opens up the world's largest à la carte menu of willing socialites and movie stars. And if Clinton wanted to have sex with some google-eyed intern, why didn't he just bang her, instead of insisting on the double diddling that will serve as the metaphor of his term in office?
None of this answers the question of why William Jefferson Clinton accumulated a crowd of rabid haters around him from the moment he moved into a White House they were sure he had usurped. Neither will the rest of what you'll read here. Hey, it's an imperfect world.
But the journey we're about to go on (I'm borrowing a Clintonian word here; having your pathetically adolescent sex life humiliatingly revealed to a bored public is a "journey") could be a useful one--especially for me if you've paid for this book and aren't just browsing through it at the airport. Some Republicans have been aching to avenge the demise of the Nixon presidency for a quarter century, but not until Clinton's ascendance could they count on a dependable reservoir of truly motivated hating talent. If a small cadre of haters can target a president, knowing his personality flaws, and entrap him into the kind of behavior that any sane person would cover up, it would be important to know what motivated them--if for no other reason than to help us prepare to grease the skids under the next guy.
Meet the Author
Inside the creative mind of Harry Shearer is a little bit of everyone--including a profoundly overblown heavy metal bass player, the boss of a cartoon nuclear power plant, a cloying suburban neighbor, an unctuous television anchor, and Richard M. Nixon, among many others. Shearer is not a legendary schizophrenic. Rather, he's one of America's foremost humorists, observers, and chroniclers of contemporary lives. Whether he's playing a role in a major motion picture, writing a screenplay, creating a comedy television show, or performing on radio, it's his job to out both the humor and humanity that always, he believes, dwell within.
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This book finally put all the craziness and nastiness in focus. After almost eight years of having to listen to Right-wing hypocrites and cretins, and the Left's mealy-mouthed defense, I can finally laugh, before I have to cry again.