Dispatch from CTHEORY San Francisco
Monday, January 26, 1998
It’s a Meet the Press kind of day in America.
James Carville, the Stonewall Jackson of the Democratic Party, has taken to the airwaves to launch the first of Clinton’s counter-offensives against virtual tales lascivious of his too toned-up, full functioning, man I’m in trouble again so get me out of it, mediated libido. Carville saved Clinton once before, back in the snowy valleys of the 92 New Hampshire primary when Clinton was being quick-exited by the first of the Gennifer Flowers story.
If Carville’s back on the scene, it’s a real political crisis. Just like Stonewall before him, Carville is smart, and goes immediately for the political kill. In Carville’s words, this isn’t a story about Clinton. Hey, the President’s a hapless victim of a new version of the (Kenneth) Star Chamber: secret wiretaps in hotel bars, threats of arresting Monica Lewinsky’s parents, “sleazy, scuzzy” tactics against a President who, by the way, is seen simultaneously on split screen, bible in hand, arm around Hillary, going piously to Sunday service.
It’s a traditional American morality play, and all the media and political elites are there for the sacrificial ritual. Newsweek magazine plays the role of town crier, MSNBC pushes the virtual edge, flipping with micro-second speed from the already obsolete sex angle to probabilities of impeachment and resignation, all the grave-tone, bubble brains of the networks thump down the moral lessons of it all on the Super Bowl-distracted American public, and the story itself spins out of control. From oral sex in the White House to exposes of the moral void in the state of the union.
Breathless reports back from the TV public are relayed by to-the-minute polling firms which can’t wait to confirm that the “President is in a free fall.” On Saturday evening, one pollster reports that “Clinton has fallen 15 points in the last hour.” By Sunday morning, he’s got his hecklers at church. Max Headroom Recombinant. Network “moral experts” appear on the screen to say that “oral sex is a terrible thing to talk about,” but this is about the President and “almost underage sex and lying and possible obstruction of justice” and, as they say, “it would be irresponsible not to cover it.” Or, as one reporter said, “If it’s sex we’ve got to cover it.”
Definitely the best story since Di. Peep show journalism with a good conscience.
And Clinton? He’s the 90s version of John Updike’s “Rabbit.” That’s why he was elected twice. A charming grifter in public, complete with presidentially tinted hair, petulant lip, a fabulous manipulator of the rhetoric of virtual communication, and, a spoiled primary (colors) satisfaction never got to the mirror stage baby in private. America’s leading man/child. Nietzsche even prophesied his appearance in advance as “slave consciousness.” Pandering and servile and flexible to the point of self-interested no principle politics in public, but reportedly an abusive, screaming bully in private. Right down the middle American CEO morality.
Right now, Clinton’s probably feeling deeply aggrieved. He cut a deal with the Republicans. Dealt the conservative cards out on welfare and free trade and the amped-up security state, and if he couldn’t have his way legislatively, at least he thought the terms of political and moral appeasement were that he could have his way sexually. Young girls in the Oral Office. Maybe he needs an electronic bracelet.
Mix slave consciousness with a Presidential mid-life crisis cut it with the secret machinations of a reputed “independent” investigator who sees a wonderful way to keep the money rolling in, vector the story of oral sex through the faster than speech media where the story itself is always too slow for virtuality, bond it to the watching voyeuristic eyes of the nation with intimations of sex and power and young interns and baby boomer politicians and you get the hyped-up “Presidential Crisis.”
However, in the wonderful way of American morality, the country itself will be reenergized by the media theatrics. In the end someone will be a sacrificial victim. The public will be bonded with feelings of renewed self-righteous sexual solidarity. The terms of moral appeasement will be meted out, and the media will turn to another virtual peep-show.
Everybody gets into the act. It’s contagious. It’s hysterical. It’s impeachable.
In the White House, Yasser Arafat poses with Clinton while reporters yell out questions about the politics of oral sex. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein remakes himself as a savvy American media theorist. And, in Cuba, Fidel becomes a TV Catholic and the Pope becomes a critic of the American way.
All the while the Super Bowl plays on.