Jewish World Review June 29, 1999 /15 Tamuz, 5759
It seems the Founding Fathers were so short-sighted that they never envisioned a formal role for ex-presidents in the Constitution. And they were so ignorant of the role First Ladies would play in the Republic that they even outlawed titles of nobility. So much for the founders' celebrated foresight. They never did understand box office.
In those pre-Hollywood days circa 1787, it was assumed that on leaving office presidents would leave office. You know, like Washington going back to Mount Vernon. The founders had no concept at all of stardom, of PR, of the difficulties of being a former immortal, of the impossibility of being a private citizen after having been a public one, of striking while the image was still hot . . . .
Harold Ickes does. He's always had an instinct for these things. And so, now, does Miss Hillary. To quote Mr. Ickes: "She understands how short the half-life of a 'former' is."
Oh, yes, anything would be better than melding into that indiscriminate blur of Betty Fords, Nancy Reagans, and Rosalynn Carters . . . . It would be a fate worse than obscurity. It would be a constant Is-that-all- there-is? experience. Better never to have been than endure that. Can you imagine anything so plebeian? It's no life for the anointed.
Think of the horror of this, as Harold Ickes put it so well, half-life. One might be reduced to writing memoirs, or at least superintending a ghostwriter. Or baking cookies. And it's not clear which occupation is more bo-ring.
It's almost impossible to hold onto one's dignity as a former first; the last to do it may have been Bess Truman. Unless you count Barbara Bush, who may be about to become First Mom, what with George W. doing so well in the polls.
So why not run for the Senate, where a former first lady would fit in perfectly with the likes of Barbara Boxer (an in-law from California) and any number of other solons who wouldn't know an impeachable offense if it came up and gave 'em a Bronx cheer? Which is essentially what our current First Husband did--to the whole country. Contumacious conduct, a judge in Arkansas not gifted with New Yorkese called it. But now he can make up for it by standing by his woman.
First Husband told CNN's Wolf Blitzer over the weekend that he, too, was getting ready to take up residence in New York. It figures. HRC may need every vote she can get.
And besides, Bill Clinton would make as genuine a New Yorker as he did an Arkansan. The great thing about New Yorkers--that is, residents of The City--is that they may be attached to their neighborhood or borough, but their state tends to be only an abstraction and income-tax gatherer. Whoever heard of New Yorkers congregating every fall to cheer on the state university's football team? (Do they even have one?)
Instead, Hillary Clinton announces that she's always been a Yankee fan, just as she was always a Cubbie in another life. If a real baseball fan could combine those two allegiances--to the ultimate losers in the Cubs, though followers of the Bosox would dispute that honor, and the ultimate winner in the Yankees--it would of course be Hillary Rodham/Hillary Clinton.
Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium go together like Muncie and Las Vegas. But our first lady has always been into makeovers. A new constituency, a new team. A new audience, a new routine.
As for Bill Clinton of Hope, Hot Springs, Little Rock, Washington and soon enough New York, well, sure. Didn't you always know that the first Arkansan to become president of the United States would reside in New York? Isn't that the way it always goes in Arkansas? You rear 'em, you invest in their education, and then they go out-of-state. Maybe with some of 'em, it's just as well.
Nobody would ever confuse William Jefferson Clinton with an Arkie; he's always been the ultimate Arkansan--upscale, on the make, cosmopolitan. In short, a New Yorker.
Our president's Southern sense of place seems about as genuine as those checkered shirts J. William Fulbright used to don every six years when he came home to run for re-election. Didn't the late senator settle in Washington after leaving politics, or was it the United Arab Emirates? He would have been equally at home in either exotic principality; it was just Arkansas he lost touch with--in about 1974. Hell hath no indifference like a small wonderful state scorned.
But the Clintons should fit in just fine in New York. And if that doesn't work out, there's California. They can break up the trip between coasts by dropping in at the presidential library in Little Rock to sign autographs, conduct tours, and preside over seminars in networking.
Mobile bunch, these New Yorkers. The only difficulty ahead for First Couple is mastering a New Yawk accent, especially the vowels. Brooklyn, Bronx, or Staten Island, each variety takes practice, dedication, identity. Maybe they could pass for a couple from Yonkers.
Or from the Finger Lakes district. Isn't that where Scott Fitzgerald's Dick Diver settled after he got in trouble in Tender Is the Night? That's the thing with the Clintons--if they don't remind you of one Fitzgerald character, like Tom or Daisy Buchanan in Gatsby, it's another.
And now they're going to habla New York? On the whole, they might have an easier time picking up Esperanto, a lingo without any particular national character.
No, it won't be easy learning N.Y. It's an accent that has a certain authenticity about it, and stamps its user as someone with a sense of place. The Clintons could wind up sounding like out-of-towners.
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