Herman Cain and the Lessons of Bill Clinton

UPON FIRST encountering him in 1992, I detected on the Arkansas governor and would-be President an unpleasant aroma. Even now I am astonished by the high regard of the man’s verbal performances, which have always struck my ears as maudlin and second-rate. Before William Jefferson Clinton, in the parade of the over-rated and “charismatic,” we find that other infamous liberal womanizer, Mr. John Fitzgerald Camelot: and now it appears we have added to this gross patrilineage the former Mr. Godfather, Herman Cain.

Liberal adoration of Bill Clinton required a certain power of ignoring the evidence in plain sight. Early in his career, indications of his besetting sins were well on display. As I had many opportunities to observe, and to suggest to others, the Clinton presidency was summarized in the campaigns. To this day I retain the vivid recollection of him, in jogging attire, diverted from the straight and narrow of his run (in both senses of that word) into the front door of a well-known burger-and-fries establishment. The man, I then cautioned myself, seems never to have passed a woman or a golden arch that he could resist.

The people who wished to believe that indiscretions do not matter undertook to believe precisely that, with the familiar and pathetic results. Clinton’s second term was choked with diversions which culminated in a Senate hearing and an impeachment, only the second in American history. Along the way we were forced to speculate on the President’s motives for bombing Sudan at a suspiciously opportune moment, and to hear the most cynical sentence ever uttered by an American politician: “It depends on what the meaning of the word is is.” I do hope I’m not alone in feeling that Clinton declined high office toward low purposes (exactly as he had done in Arkansas), and I find it particularly offensive that an institution of such vast potential was squandered — by a man who liked to point out he was from Hope — on the blow-back of a blowjob.

The bit about the golden arches brings to my mind Beltway journalist Jack Germond, who once recalled his occupation’s euphemism for a politician/womanizer as “someone who appreciates a well-turned ankle.” Such things were not taken so seriously in his time, and some today refer to Cain’s stubbornly buoyant polling numbers to claim that such things are not taken seriously in our time, either. As I’ve laboured to suggest, however, contempt for women should be — along with for example anti-Semitism — regarded as an indication of deep character flaw. In the case of Bill Clinton, narcissism was at the core of his womanizing. Advised of this, one could hardly have been surprised, even if shocked and disgusted, by the calculating ways in which he used and disposed of others, a modus operandi which extended to the instruments of office as well. Those who claimed, and claim, that sexual indiscretions (and note what a crass euphemism that is) are private matters ought to review the Clinton years, paying attention to the costs extracted from public office by the Clinton appetite.

I am not naive enough to suppose my words will be heeded. The last few presidential campaigns indicate that questions of character and conduct are sorted out in relation to ideology, Conservatives rallying to “their man” as the Liberals do also. Apart from the intellectual dishonesty of this manoeuvre, however, one encounters the practical problem indicated above. A man who arrives to the race with even the slightest of stench upon him — and the shrink-wrap still on — should be regarded with due caution. Think of it as a possible warning.

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