Our very first black female president
October 16, 1998 Wesley Pruden
Pruden on Politics
October 16, 1998
Our very first black female president
The Republicans are supposed to be obsessed with sex, the president's libido and Monica's drawers, but it's the president's dearest friends who want to talk only about sex.
The lawyerly Republicans are trying to focus attention on the president's lies, witness tampering, attempted jury-rigging and whether he obstructed justice. The libertines of the left keep trying to change the subject. But who can blame them? A wench is more interesting than a writ, a tart a lot more fun than a tort.
The president's defense has evolved from the early days when he said angrily that he didn't do it. From there, we've heard that well, he didn't do it, but even if he did, nobody could prove it. When Monica's dress showed up, and the spinach dip wasn't spinach, well, OK, but it was about sex, and everybody lies about that.
Now his friends in the arts and crafts argue that yes, of course it was sex, and only sex, and isn't that just too, too wonderful. Some of the old guys, like William Styron, wistfully recalling his rising to erotic occasions in his youth, live vicariously now through the young president. Bill Styron writes in the New Yorker of being invited to Paris, to bask in the reflected glory of writers with bigger reputations than his, watching the girls in their early-summer dresses buzz about Francois Mitterrand. He thrills to the words of the dying French president: "I don't know of a single head of state who hasn't yielded to some kind of carnal temptation, small or large. That in itself is reason enough to govern."
Toni Morrison, the novelist, speculates that despite his white skin Bill Clinton is our first black president, sprung whole from an unlikely segregationist culture with all the freewheeling appetites for loud music, fried food, hot preaching and lubricity between the sheets acquired from the black folks he grew up with in Hope and Hot Springs. Miss Morrison is black, so she can get by with exploiting racist stereotypes. Earl Butz got fired from the Cabinet for telling a tasteless bathroom fable about comfortable shoes and accommodating ladies, based on such stereotypes. And he was only joking.
Virginia Vitzthum writes in Salon, the internet shrine to the pristine conscience of our 42nd president, that Toni Morrison told only part of the story -- that Bill Clinton is not only our first black president, but our first female president.
She cites the evidence. "The first known victim of child abuse," she writes, "Clinton seemed female from the start -- over-eating, over-compensating, over-accommodating and more vulnerable than the emotionally inscrutable Hillary."
The president's critics, she notes, have subjected the president to a global version of the "male gaze," the subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle appraisal women know very well: Everyone knows what kind of underwear he wears; his chubby thighs are a subject of public speculation; his public "apology" for his sexual naughtiness is publicly measured; he has been subjected to the misogynistic judgment that "he was asking for it"; like a teen-ager, he spent hours on the telephone with Monica, gossiping, memorizing her telephone number, promising to wear her tie on special days, vowing not to go "all the way"; constantly exhibiting a need to be liked, dumping friends (Lani Guinier, Joycelyn Elders, gay soldiers, welfare moms, labor unions) to preserve his own popularity, and being halfhearted about it when he orders military reprisals against enemies (Sudan, Afghanistan, Rwanda).
Most "female" of all, argues Miss Vitzthum in Salon, the president plays the ultimate girl's game of "technical virginity," remaining a "good girl" while doing "everything but" and denying the next day that he had gone even that far. In sum, a perfect president for the Gelded Age.
Bill Clinton may or may not be black -- black readers should address their objections to Toni Morrison -- and if he's female, he has, despite his po' white origins, certainly acquired a bit of the polished Delta belle's gift for spinning hoodoo. Florence King, the most perceptive arbiter of Southern social foibles, could have been writing about ol' Bill (Our Miss Billie?) when she describes how a belle reckons that her virginity is self-rejuvenating. This enables her father, among others, to believe that what he knows can't be true, that his little girl is no longer untouched by unholy male hands, really is sort of true.
She hasn't really lost her virginity, the belle reasons, because among other things, she was drunk, they didn't take off all their clothes, they didn't do it in a bed, she'll never see him again, and -- this is the most persuasive excuse of all --it happened in New York City.
This is the female version of the president's rationalizing his turning the Oval Office into a low-rent bordello, that "it depends on what your definition of is, is," and how you define being "alone."
Viva la difference, such as may survive.