Joe Queenan  

Day Four
Thursday, Oct. 17, 1996
       One thing that last night’s debate has made clear: The American people have lost their sense of occasion. The president of the United States and one of the most respected Senate leaders of the past century turn up in a Southern California city for a town hall meeting, and the locals show up in clothes they’d be embarrassed to wear to a Long John Silver’s. Did you see some of those ties? Those dresses? And who was the idiot in the second row sporting the Smokey Bear wide-brimmed hat with the Mickey Mouse shirt? Doesn’t this doofus know that people all around the world are going to see televised images of President Clinton with Humpty Dumpty in the background? Doesn’t he realize that his silly get-up makes America look just a little bit tacky? Where is his fashion sense?
       Let me tell you, if Bill Clinton and Bob Dole ever showed up in my town for a debate, you can bet your boots that I’d get out my best suit, my most expensive shirt, my snappiest tie, and my spiffiest wingtips for the event. My attitude is: No matter how much you dislike a politician personally, you have an obligation as a citizen to dress like his presence means something to you. (Obviously, this would not apply in the case of Al D’Amato.) I feel the same way about weddings, funerals, and bar mitzvahs. These are important events, serious events, sacred events. Blue jeans and Smokey Bear hats are completely out of place in these settings.
       These are values I have taken great pains to instill in my kids. A couple of weeks ago, my son was invited to the bar mitzvah of one of his best friends. The night before the event, when inspecting my son’s outfit, I found out that he planned to wear blue jeans to the ceremony. “No way,” I told him, dragging him out to a local department store just before closing time. “Christians have been persecuting Jews for thousands of years, so the least you can do is wear a nice pair of slacks and a blazer to Andrew’s bar mitzvah.”
       I’m not sure that Gord completely followed my logic on that one, but, the next day, when the time came to leave, there he was in his blue blazer, neatly pressed slacks, white shirt, and tie. I was such a proud parent. Unlike the parents of that knucklehead in San Diego last night. Man, I wish I’d been in that crowd last night when that wanker showed up with that ridiculous hat, looking like the fourth runner-up in a Billy Jack look-alike contest. I would have popped the little sucker. I would have popped him good. We’re not talking about a city council meeting here. We’re not talking about a zoning board hearing. We’re talking about a prime-time, nationally televised debate featuring the president of the United States and the ex-Senate majority leader, a man who happens to have lost the use of his arm defending clowns just like you. So next time, show some respect. We’ve got your address, pal.


       I love the way Bill Clinton bites down on his lower lip and waits a few seconds to respond after somebody has said something nasty about him. You can tell that he does it just to tick people off. His body language seems to say: “I’m so cool, so poised, so focused, so in control. And you’re not.” It must be infuriating to stand there and wait for him to say something after you think you’ve landed a body blow. That pause is so, so haughty, and so, so annoying.
       I would love to be in the room if Bill were to ever try using that reflective pause on Hillary.