Sunday, September 24, 2006

Beyond Elvis: Bill Clinton is Leviathan

by Bernie Quigley for The Free Market News Network, 9/24/2006

I’m sure you’ve seen him these past weeks. He is everywhere. On The Daily Show, in a 23-page interview in The New Yorker – his core constituency, they love him at The New Yorker, and give him the kind of treatment usually reserved for Churchill – on the cover of The Huntington Post, on Fox News Sunday; Elvis here, Elvis there, Elvis everywhere. Elvis has not left the building. He is staging a comeback.

It is one of the core mysteries of life that certain people seem to resemble famous others. When he first appeared in the world outside Arkansas, The New York Times Magazine ran an odd story about how much he resembled Elvis. I found it to be way spooky. He does look like Elvis. He wears the same size 13 shoes. He has a penchant for trashy women which appeals to some of his constituency and which he orchestrates as part of his charm and charisma. And he married an out-of-town woman, which he saw as moving upscale into the world beyond Hope and Memphis and Little Rock. It caused some resentment among his own; as the Southern Gentlemen would sing it, he drifted too far from the shore.

When I worked in the South they used to say about Elvis, “He never should have married that Yankee woman.” Caused him to want to rise above himself and cursed him to chase it back throughout his life in Graceland’s Jungle Room with any woman on hand. But Elvis would go home too and sing Gospel - beautiful, simple and utterly sincere, as none other could, to the very end of his life. When I left the South they started saying the same thing about Bill Clinton: “He never should have married that Yankee woman.”

For some things there is no explanation. Perhaps Elvis was America’s Vishnu; emanating in part or in whole elsewhere in space and in time – with Michael Jackson, with Eminem, with the Deathless Child of Enlightenment wherever that entity would awakened in the world. After his first popularity had passed (my mother and father wouldn’t allow my sister and I to watch on The Ed Sullivan Show - it was considered too scandalous – lucky for You Tube we can see it today) he began to think of himself as transcendent. Like when he started wearing the white god outfit in his Vegas act. Then letting the crowd at his feet touch his garments. And like many other minor deities and artists before him, he descending into sadness, drug addiction and confusion when the spirit abandoned.

The curse of celebrity took him. But it was not an addiction to the drugs and the women which brought him down. It was an addiction to himself. He’d come to see himself as a god-king, and when people called him the King, he’d scold them and remind them onstage that Jesus Christ was the King. But then he dreamed too that he was Jesus.

Celebrity is a killer. When The Beatles first played large stadiums it made John Lennon nervous. The tens of thousands of teens screaming and crying hysterically, some taken out in a trance in ambulances. And it gave him the creeps that they rolled in the sick and the crippled to the front rows as if The Beatles were healers.

It is not only pop stars who fall victim to it. Politicians, religious figures, even scientists do. It is a kind of persona madness; a conviction that one’s public role in the world becomes the true self. The adoration of the hordes becomes a personal conviction: I must be a god king if all these millions think I am. It is a core theme of some of Rudyard Kipling’s and Joseph Conrad’s best work, perhaps because the Victorians were most susceptible to it.

Even Einstein suffered from it, possibly more than most. He adopted some of the most tragically misguided ideas of the century; the passing fancies and affectations of Europe’s avant garde, such as world socialism, after he’d become famous and sought after. He even invited Freud to join him as kind of avatar on the world stage, but Freud had the better sense. But no matter what Einstein proposed, including the building and use of nuclear weapons for warfare (“my biggest mistake,” he later demurred) the Eloi of the governing classes, which held him in awe, were certain to adopt it.

I was at the first Clinton inauguration on assignment. At Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, a man was reciting the Baghavad Gita and every time he got to the name Lord Krishna, he substituted Bill Clinton in its place. And Elvis was there of course, as Clinton promoted an image of himself as Elvis and his FBI code name encryption was Elvis. An Elvis Impersonator marched in his inaugural parade.

Clinton had forgotten his own Southern Baptist roots or maybe he felt he had outgrown them. Any sincere and earthy Pentacostalist preacher from Memphis or beyond would have told him that it’s not good to mess with the dead. It’ll come back on you.

Clinton’s new Popular Front this week had some good commentary. I read in The Huffington Post that he’s sick of “ . . . Karl Rove’s bullshit.” So am I. A good number of us have been sick of it for six years. So where has this guy been? And now he’s speaking out against torture. Now that the crisis has passed. Why did he wait to resist until the crisis had all but passed? The only Dems we’ve been hearing in opposition these long six years have been Robert C. Byrd, Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, Russ Feingold and Jim Webb of Virginia.

Now that the country has been shamed and disgraced by practices abhorrent to every wave of America from Jefferson to Eisenhower, he speaks out. Why should we listen now? Till now only John McCain has been able to carry influence in opposition to this President. The Democrats have either acquiesced to him or appeased him, including at the very top of the list, the Senator from New York, that Bible thumpin’, flag lovin’ born-again Warrior Princess, Hillary Clinton.

The few who have spoken out clearly have been marginalized by the big bucks Nantucket Democrats who get their news from The New Yorker. Why does he speak out now? Because the many Bill Clinton appearances this Fall, coordinated with a full blog roll on the internet by Hillary apparatchiks, along with the rumor last week that Clinton Democrat Terry McAuliffe (“Terry McAuliffe?,” commented Marcos of the Daily Kos) had been hired by Senator Clinton for her Presidential shot next year, are a coordinated effort to begin Senator Clinton’s rise to the Presidential race in 2008. McAuliffe said he would raise 100 million dollars to that effort and he let it leak to the press on Capitol Hill.

No doubt he can. It should be considered scandalous to exploit an issue like torture or Karl Rove’s bullshit for political advantage, but we have passed that marker long ago. Nothing is scandalous to these people. Everything is marketing.

It seems to be backfiring. On the Fox News Sunday interview with Chris Wallace this morning Clinton appeared to unravel. He went on the show to talk about his Global Initiative and was irked when Wallace asked him why he hadn’t “put bin Laden and al-Qaeda out of business.” Then he attacked Wallace, insinuating that he was one of Fox’s conservative hack commentators, but Wallace has generally been free of that and has been respected in the profession for 30 years. It seems a fair question. I’d like to know.

Clinton wanted to talk about the Clinton Global Initiative, which is kind of his own UN, but more hip. He wanted to talk about how his cool friend, Richard Branson, who made Virgin Express airlines and those trendy TV shows where they jump out of airplanes into snake pits or something is going to help stop global warming by giving Clinton a billion dollars.

Giving away a billion dollars is getting to be a pretty cool thing. Everybody Bill Clinton knows now since he became President practically has that much money. But, somebody tell these guys: Cool is passé. It has been now for a full generation. It was Kurt Cobain, the innocent waif and god-king of a whole generation since which began with his anthem: “I’d rather be dead than cool.”

Is there any way that someone like Bill Clinton can be led to understand that there is something preposterous about him thinking that he is the man at the Center of the World, and that his trendy, but aging and post-seasonal friends can start their own UN? Can someone tell him that he can’t stop global warming or cure AIDS because he gets Mick Jagger to hang out with him?(Mick Jagger?)

Bush’s ratings have gone up considerable in the past two weeks. My own theory is that a misconceived quote by a careless Pope with a Medievalist bent had an unintended, pneumonic, feeling effect and as it appeared to offend Muslims, likewise it appeared to millions of others who instinctively trust in his traditional authority to have been a Bush endorsement. I think the new Clinton presence has helped Bush as well. Mainstream Democrats seem unable to understand this simple logic of politics; a dollar for Clinton is a vote for Bush.

Bill Clinton was President in a time of soaring hopes and rising economy. Half of the country was invested in the stock market. In this America everyone was going to be rich. It was a grand illusion, but not an unfair one. When the sun shines bright on people they feel that Jesus loves them.

But the country changed on 9/11. And the century changed and the millennium changed. The attitudes of the Clinton period were perhaps right for that time. But they are not right for this time. The True Believers in the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party are the last to know.

History will pass them by. Charles Baxter today in The New York Times gives a more relevant picture. In reporting on Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District, he gives a sense of the new century.

The campaign is in crisis mode, he writes. The race is between Michele Bachmann, the Republican, and Patty Wetterling, the Democrat, and it reveals a Bush-era national trend now visible locally. In Minnesota’s Sixth District, he writes, liberalism is the new conservatism. Baxter describes the Republicans as in a state of constant crisis, and “crisis rhetoric, which is inherently radical rather than conservative, dissolves social stability.”

The Democrat, on the other hand, is “tame and pleasant and sensible” — conservative, that is. In the Democrat’s view “ . . . we are not in the end times but in a stable world shaped by well-financed public education, Social Security, benefits for veterans, a decent respect for the opinions of others, a reluctance to engage in foreign adventures, and balanced budgets.”

Lake Wobegon in this day is the avant garde. These attitudes can be seen growing in many places in America. But as the Democrats have moved beyond Apocalypse and are bringing stability to the heartland in many places, they keep getting dragged back by the Second Millennium Clintons.

Baxter’s piece is prescient and shows the Democrats in a position to make progress in the country by accentuating the solid values of Lake Wobegon. But not if they can’t get past the Clintons.

This is what Tibetans do. When someone dies, they put a little boat a stream and light a candle in it. As the boat goes down the stream, the candle burns, and when the candle is out, the loved ones left behind go on with their life. But all things die and nothing dies – the day passes on to a death and so does the millennium. Tibetans make no distinction. They likewise let go of these and avoid attachment, which locks them into a figment of their imagination, and let go of the past as they let go of mother’s hand.

The Democrats should put a candle in the boat – two candles – and send it down the river. And go forth into the world in peace and good hope with new eyes and new ideas.