Even before the recent Daily
News poll predicting that Bill Clinton could easily be elected Mayor of our
otherwise intelligent city, I’d made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to
write about “Yo! Bubba” anymore.
I was not, for example, going to point out that the design
of Mr. Clinton’s Presidential library is an incredibly apt architectural
metaphor for Mr. Clinton’s Presidency: an unfinished bridge to nowhere, where
one can either drive or jump off at the end, plunging straight down into the
I was not going to point out that his Presidential library
money is the ultimate slush fund, with donations deposited more or less
directly into Yo! Bubba’s pockets, able to cover endless stag dinners (insert a
Bob Kerrey quoted-out-of-context lesbian joke here); lots of air travel to
L.A.; who knows how many private, late-afternoon “donor appreciation” thank-you
sessions in some of our finer hotels; plus a multitude of other, possibly more
interesting sins, all disbursed and paid for on a platinum Amex card with
virtually no adult oversight.
And to top it all off, I certainly wasn’t going to question
why no middle-class African American spokesperson has risen up to complain
about how demeaning it was for Yo! Bubba to tell the comedian Chris Tucker that
he moved the office to Harlem because “I am the first black President.”
In particular, I didn’t want to dwell on this last issue.
But come on: Given the current context, what exactly does that mean? Is he
saying that a black President would have no sense of propriety? A black
President would get caught lifting the furniture? A black President would
commit perjury, plea-bargain his way out of office and have absolutely no idea
of what the correct usage of the verb “is” is? Or is it that only a black
President would pull an O.J.-announcing that he’s moving back to the ‘hood
after being criticized for livin’ large in a high-rent district-be it 57th
Street or Brentwood?
If you consider this from a different stereotype, can you
imagine the outrage-the firestorm-that would have greeted Yo! Bubba if he’d
shown up at a Jewish Federation dinner, announced that he’d raised $50 billion
for Jewish charities, then bit his lower lip and moistened his eyes, oozing:
“Given mah way with money, I guess you people might say I’m the first Jewish
Yes, I had hoped to avoid writing about any of this. But
then two things happened.
First, I saw Fox News’ Paula Zahn interviewing David
Brenner, where the pathetically out-of-touch comedian attempted to defend the
Clinton White House furniture imbroglio by saying, “Look, he took a few pots
and pans. He took some silverware. I mean, a lot of people do that. Everybody
takes towels from hotels.”
Everybody? Well, for one, I don’t. Nor, I’d like to think,
do most responsible adults. Particularly those who’ve been elected President of
the United States. But I suppose when it comes to petty thievery, David Brenner
shares Bill Clinton’s inability to distinguish between the White House and a
The second thing occurred as I was watching the TV coverage
of Bill’s daily meanderings in Chappaqua and I found myself experiencing an
incredibly weird sense of déjà-vu.
Maybe it was Bill’s mall-rat running shoes.
Or the way he stood, warming his hands around the coffee cup
in the brown paper bag outside the local deli.
Or possibly the absurd logo-wear: the endless Gimme baseball
caps, the sweat pants and polo shirts, all emblazoned with some corporate,
golf-club or sports-resort brand name.
But what I think really clarified my thinking-the point at
which the sense of déjà-vu seemed to
sync up with reality-was the sight of our former President in a two-toned black
leather baseball jacket, with red tufted
“USA” varsity letters running down the white sleeves. For, at this
moment, it all became clear to me:
Bill Clinton is our new Joey Buttafuoco.
He’s got the same shoes, the same coffee in a bag, the same
clueless “I’m the victim here, but ain’t all this attention great?” smirk as he
signs autographs for the curious and dodges microphones from third-string
cable-TV news reporters.
Yes, we’ve all seen it before. Bill and Joey: perfect
candidates for the “Separated at Birth?” section in the old Spy magazine.
And let’s not go near the rest of the similarities: the
suffering wife, the young-enough-to-be-his-daughter paramour, the star-struck
fascination with Hollywood-where Joey soon moved and many assume Bill will
Last December, I had
dinner with a talent agent who insisted that Bill Clinton’s economic future had
never been brighter. He saw a pot of gold on the lecture circuit, while I argued
that publicly traded companies would run the risk of alienating shareholders
and customers by paying huge sums to such a polarizing figure. The agent mocked
my assertion in this space last August that the day would come when Mr. Clinton
would find himself at one end of a cross-country phone call, listening
incredulously as a young assistant explained that “Mr. Geffen would love to
speak to you, but he’s in a meeting. Can he call you back tomorrow?”
If Bill Clinton had learned anything about damage control during his eight years in office, he
would have known that, sooner or later, the truth always comes out. And sooner
is always less painful and invariably less damaging in the long run. If Bill
Clinton had simply woken up on Jan. 23 and announced, “I’m sorry, I screwed up,
I was tired, I shouldn’t have pardoned Marc Rich,” we would have probably
shrugged and moved on, and only the most rabid Clinton-haters would still be
turning over stones looking for dirt. Instead, we got the usual Clinton “when
all the facts are known” boilerplate proclamation of innocence, followed by the
usual Clinton defense strategy of shifting blame, crying victim and delaying
all the facts being known.
Which almost invariably means that when all the facts do come out, they will be both more
sordid and unseemly than anyone expected.
For the eight years that
Bill Clinton was President, we were told that character didn’t count and that
his job approval rating was all that mattered.
As a former President, however, there is no job approval
rating. All that’s left is character. And Bill Clinton, sadly, has none.