While we're on the subject of interviews, I'd like to ask the reader a question. Did you think Governor Clinton was suddenly going to lean across the table and say: 'P J, if I'm elected, taxes will be on steroids, regulatory agencies will spread like sexually transmitted diseases, inflation's going to look like my midsummer opinion- poll ratings, the stock market will do a cordless bungee jump, and the world economy is heading into a putrid funk the likes of which has not been whiffed since the great species die-off of the late Mesozoic era?'
Successful politicians did not get to be successful politicians by being dumb enough to tell reporters the truth. Or tell reporters much of anything. Interviewing a politician is an exercise in futility. You might as well pull open your billfold and question George and Abe: 'And what are your ideas about pocket lint?'
Then there's the matter of charm. It is the business of successful politicians to have some, and even the most loathsome have enough to last through an average interview. I count myself a hard- bitten newsman - cynical, world- weary, you get the picture - but I have been charmed in my time by Mayor Koch, Imelda Marcos and the Lebanese Shiite terrorist leader, Hussein Mussawi.
You start out asking the tough questions, and before you know it, you find yourself saying: 'I loved your last car bomb. It had real style and, dare I say it, wit.' Bill Clinton happens to be a genuinely likeable person. This is cheating.
The third and worst problem with political interviews is the essential dishonesty of the interviewers. Sometimes this is wilful, but mostly it is unconscious and uncontrollable, like the action of the aorta or, more to the point, the colon.
Exempli gratia, I am a blowed- in-the glass Republican. I was born Republican, raised Republican. I was a free-love Maoist for a little while in college (I inhaled). But I have never voted for a Democrat in my life. Therefore, Bill Clinton could know the location of the Holy Grail, possess the secrets of the philosophers' stone and have the value of pi worked out to the last decimal place, and I'd fudge it. I wouldn't mean to, but there's a devil on my shoulder - wearing lime green pants and a blue blazer - and he'd make me. Some things are evident from a peek at Clinton. He is not one of those old-fashioned bucket- mouthed populists hog-calling the poor to the federal trough. Nor is he a jackleg highbinder leaving trails of ooze and slime all over the furniture. He's not a wound-up, indignant Nader-head gone ferret-like with zealotry, not a creature from the planet Jerry Brown and not a wallet-waggling pipsqueak in a pair of hand-tooled voter-skin cowboy boots.
Clinton is fond of details. Maybe a bit too fond. He would have talked health-care reform until the cows came home - came home and got a federally subsidised check-up for udder lumps. It's nice that he knows the issues in and out, but the United States is a big country, and details are small things.
Eisenhower, in the middle of the Cold War, never bothered to learn how to say 'nuclear'. He called the bombs 'nuke-you-lure' to the end of his days. But Ike gave us D-day, the interstate highway system, pre-eminence in world affairs and nearly a decade of unprecedented economic growth.
Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, could tell you the number of semicolons in the federal budget, and his big accomplishment was boycotting the 1980 Olympics.
Clinton takes himself very seriously. He answered the Beatle question with good grace, but
And when talking about rebuilding America's inner cities, Clinton cited the Grameen rural development bank of Bangladesh as an example of the kind of institution his administration would create. Surely this is the first time Bangladesh has been held up as a model for America's future. Not enough that Washington, Detroit and the South Bronx have drugs and crime; now they're going to be flooded and starved.
The governor went on to say that he and his wife have been, for years, enthusiastic admirers of the Grameen Bank and its founder, Muhammad Yunus. Grameen lends money in ten spots and double sawbucks to peasant women so they can buy sewing machines to make doilies and such. This should repair the economic ruin of South Central Los Angeles in no time.
If I had to make a snap judgement about Clinton's character - and I do - I'd say a bit fussy, a bit pompous, but not a butthole. When asked the truly difficult questions, such as 'What about national drug policy, huh?' or 'Should we shoot the Serbians or hang them?', Clinton would sometimes utter those wise and priceless words so little heard in this conviction-gorged age of idiot righteousness: 'I don't know.'
But all the foregoing is just an impression. To get the real measure of the man, we would have had to set fire to the restaurant and see which one of us he saved or something.
At least as important as finding the charred remains of the only Republican political correspondent ever to write for Rolling Stone is the question of Bill Clinton's political philosophy. Does he have one? Is there anything to it besides the usual Democratic idea of running your pay cheque through the salad shooter and dumping the shreds on the compost heap of good intentions?
A quick read of the 1992 Democratic Party platform is not reassuring. About 40 new revenue- gobbling policies are vowed, including a 'Police Corps', a 'Democracy Corps', a 'Civilian Conservation Corps' an 'expanded Job Corps' and boot camp for first-time criminal offenders. This is a lot of paramilitary organisations for a guy who dodged military service.
Clinton is going to balance the budget, of course - as all good candidates are this year. But the Democratic platform plan for doing this is limited to a few muzzy statements about increased efficiency and decreased defence spending, a promise to cut government administrative costs by 3 per cent a year and a threat to 'make the rich pay their fair share in taxes'. It's worth a little math on that last point. There are about 6.4 million households in America with adjusted gross incomes of more than dollars 75,000 per year. If we increase the tax burden on each of those families by an average of dollars 5,000, we will generate less than 3 per cent of the federal budget. Thus, when it comes to paying a fair share of taxes, you'd better get ready to be counted rich no matter what you make.
Nor is Clinton's record in Arkansas heartening. He raised the state sales tax by one-and-a-half cents, a levy which harms the poorest people most, especially in Arkansas, where food purchases are not tax-free. He increased the state gasoline tax by nine cents in a state where motor vehicles are the only means of transportation if your mule is sick. Public spending in Arkansas has increased faster than family income. In 1980 the state ranked 49th in income per person. It now ranks 47th.
Clinton is a typical Democratic carnival barker with nothing much but a new line of patter. His platform is a barrel of pork disguised as a keg of banana oil. However, there is one difference between Clinton and his party's previous presidential-ballot fodder. It's clear that Clinton really believes government, business, labour, schools, communities and - I don't know - the Elks, Club Med and My Little Pony can co-operate in perfect harmony to create a better America. That he thinks so is as sweet as it is ridiculous.
According to what Clinton says, this smarmy and alarming notion of everyone blissfully engaged in collective betterment will turn us into a country like Germany or Japan. I seem to remember my father fought a war to keep us from turning into a country like Germany or Japan. I don't want to spend the rest of my life eating baloney for breakfast and singing anti-Semitic songs in beer cellars. Nor do I want to live in a house with walls made of gift wrap, get my dinner out of a fish tank and croon the Rolling Stone corporate anthem every morning.
Bill Clinton should remember that America wasn't founded so that we could all be better. America was founded so we could all be anything we damn well pleased. How can the government help us do that? Usually it can't, and it has no business butting in anyway.
Let me be the one person this year who won't urge you to vote. It's an over-rated activity. Just try to vote yourself some fun for the weekend or another 10 points of IQ. And I certainly will not endorse Bill Clinton. But neither will I tell you that he's a drip or a loon. He isn't, much. If your life is so screwed up and pathetic that you think even a politician can make it better, go ahead and pull the donkey lever.
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