KNOCK YOURSELF LOOSE
calling all over the world to produce a column about the Syrian dictator
Hafez al-Assad sending hoodlums to trash our Damascus embassy, and nobody
But suck your thumb, stare at the wall, and wonder
in print what holds Bill Clinton's popularity up despite a year running
Shame Inc., and—hoo-hah!—more mail comes pouring in than from any essay
As a result, I now have in hand a survey conducted
on the same scientific lines as the memorable Literary Digest poll
of 1936, which forecast Alf Landon's victory over F.D.R.
Finding #1. Clinton loyalists see the media as elitist
hounds and the man being impeached as populist fox. "What the political
class and media elite don't understand is . . . he likes us so much better
than he likes all of you," notes a Floridian. "In fact, he can't stand
you and neither can we."
#2. Loyalists find his failings to be their failings.
"I prefer human leaders," writes an Indiana woman, "and Bill Clinton seems
to have a sin for each of us to identify with." (She adds: "We like people
who tell us we are doing good. When was the last time any right-wing ideologue
said we were doing good?") "He is being guided," a preacher notes, ". .
. being used to reveal human frailties which have been a part of who we
are for eons."
#3. He is grudgingly admired for his Houdini-class
escapes. "Our lives replay high school," says a New York City man. "Bill
Clinton is the popular kid—athletic, socially adroit, charismatic—who runs
afoul of the rules. Yet he somehow manages to escape real punishment or
taint. Worse, he makes the winning touchdown, delivers the class address,
and scores with all the babes. Meanwhile, the dutiful, diligent geeks (Republicans)
just can't understand the unfairness of it all."
#4. Some loyalists discern a liberating message in
his example. "Bill Clinton has challenged two of our hypocrisies," writes
a Connecticut woman. "We have had to admit that sexual activity is not
the crime we thought it was, and that, on occasion, we condone dishonesty.
. . . He has reminded us that sexual activity is . . . a necessity for
our good moods, our creative energies, and even for our feelings of generosity
#5. Impeachment is akin to combat, say Clinton die-hards,
and sides must be taken. "I feel I've been put in the situation of someone
who must choose between two sides in a horrible civil war," writes a Florida
man. "One in which both sides are routinely committing atrocities. I can
live with the aftermath of Clinton's conduct. I cannot live with everyone
suddenly having to pass the muster of the self-appointed guardians of the
#6. In this culture clash, loyalists see Clinton
as their persecuted champion. "Fundamental belief systems, analogous to
those in the Civil War, are in question," holds a Connecticut Ph.D. "The
equality, or dominance, of a race or gender underlies the apparent conflict
between political parties . . . about familiar white male values in contrast
to more democratic but scarier ones."
#7. Loyalty to Clinton in this contest is intensified
by anger at his pursuers. "It's fun watching you right-wing, obsessed nut-job
freaks twist in the wind," fulminates a New Yorker. "This is war." A more
temperate Californian notes: "The phenomenal mean-spiritedness of so many
of Mr. Clinton's critics elevates him by comparison. People grow weary
That's the central point about the source of Clinton
support in the mail drawn by my wonderment. "How can you not understand
the concept of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'? The critics of the
President scare many of us out here in the hinterlands," reports a Wisconsin
man. "They are moralists, they have no sense of human frailties, and they
frankly aren't very likable. If they kept their mouths shut and let moderate
people present the issues, the President's support might diminish significantly."
There we have a snapshot of some of the sources of
this President's remarkably solid support.
The loyalists' Clinton: not a reckless predator of
women but a victim of an elitist-moralist plot; not a breaker of solemn
oaths but a breaker of moral chains; not a cornered con man but a hero
to all who feel hunted.
Is this the new, much different Silent Majority?
Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company