Walter Kirn

       I should have known better than to watch the news this morning. President Clinton’s face is making me ill again. I remember certain grown-ups when I was young having a similar reaction to Nixon: a permeating bodily nausea. I found their reactions frightening at the time, embarrassingly intense and overwrought, but I think I understand them now. I look at Bill Clinton and those who’ve helped him rise–Susan McDougal, whose star-struck, doe-eyed loyalty reminds me of a creepy Manson girl; Huang and Trie, the tricky clean-cut couriers; Dick Morris, the disgraced seducer-consultant; and the whole sad cast of spokesmen and advisers whose eyes seem droopy and tired and unfocused from the prolonged suspension of moral intelligence–and what I see is adolescent appetite, the same sort of base-line, emotional hunger that sends one to the store for bags of ripple chips or out to Hooters for jumbo margaritas. If the presidency, as I’ve heard the experts say, is chiefly a symbolic office these days, then the symbol for this crew should be the grabbing hand. America, I fear on days like this, is just a giant piece of ass to them, the juiciest, plumpest rump there ever was.
       There, I said it. I tried to say it last weekend, but the guy I was talking to kept objecting intelligently. He wouldn’t let me get a head of steam up. He was an ABC News producer, in town to interview Maggie for Turning Point. It’s a long story, but here’s what it boils down to: Maggie’s mother is Margot Kidder, who early last summer had a saddening breakdown that caused our town to be flooded with paparazzi and National Enquirer reporters. Maggie wrote a magazine piece about the days of harassment and surveillance and ABC read it and decided to talk to her about the general topic of tabloid news. The people they sent were nice guys. They bought us dinner. Then, halfway through the meal, I opened my trap and spewed all this stuff about Clinton and his gang, no doubt confirming every preconception the producer might have had about Montanans in the year of the Freemen and the Unabomber. The producer weighed in with wise and worldly points about the fallen nature of modern politics, and how we must take the bad with the good, and how Clinton’s done several good things despite his failings–kept the stock market high, was the big one–but I was on fire and hearing none of it.
       I’m sure, looking back, I was ranting with mouth full, and probably spraying specks of spit on people. How mortifying. I need to speak more calmly. That’s my New Year’s promise: I’ll speak more calmly. I hear that it helps to sit still and take deep breaths.