Truthizing Fictions

Posted by Dale Marlowe on September 11, 2006 · 8 mins read

Fiction is Truer than Fact.

Attributed to E. Hemingway.

Like you, few things would please me more than to soak in a hot tub with Clinton, five supermodels, an 8-ball of fine Ecuadorian flake, and a split of Dom. But let's not kid ourselves: Clinton was a weak leader governing in a sweet spot. It's his thing, folks. That's what he does. He shows late, parties hard and bails before the cops show.

I believe history will emphasize he: 1) was elected by Ross Perot; 2) governed at first as though he had a liberal mandate he did not in fact have, and by doing so brought his party to 1994's comeuppance; 3) wasted his earned and real second-term mandate by governing as though he were a Republican; 4) confused sexual discretion with prudery, and showed neither; 5) brought a gang of small-time heavies and fixers from Little Rock, who were no match for the pros in D.C., abroad, and; 6) misunderstood realpolitik to such a large extent that diplomacy was neutered by its inability to culminate in force, except in hyper-humanitarian absurdities like Somalia.

Of the six Clintonian sins, the last is his true legacy. Despite nostalgia for the Golden Years immediately preceding the century's turn, when it appeared to many of us that the Kingdom had finally arrived, there was a deep undertow of angst across the planet that had gone not only ignored, but wholly unperceived.

Consider the Final Status negotiations at Camp David--where Clinton had hoped to bring peace to the Middle East by forcing Barak and Arafat to hang out in the woods for a spell, where they could work settle differences over unswined entrees. Clinton and his staff believed Arafat could, or would even, capitulate on the Jerusalem question.

Focused so on the near term, on BATNAs and WATNAs, on instant or really-fast, before-I-leave-office gratification, they were unable to comprehend that there are still people in this world who take the long-view of history--be they quasi-socialist commandants who feign Islam for teeming, furious crowds, or, tiny Korean dictators, or Bond-style villains holed up in Pakistani caves with their dialysis machines and an opium pipe.

And this is where Clinton failed--whether or not Sandy Berger ever hung up on a CIA agent seeking a kill order, as ABC's docudrama, The Path to 9/11, claims, or whether Sudan, seeking to wipe the shit off its hands, tried to send Bin Laden America's way, doesn't matter. It's Clinton's hubris, and near religious faith in the basest, Skinneresque motivations for human behavior, that hoodwinked us, in which darkness we lulled to complacency.

Clinton's gang of heavies, now made pros, have put tremendous pressure on ABC to change, or pull the program; it is remarkable to watch people whose lives were made hell for a decade by manipulation of the media complex use those same effective levers to benefit themselves. Sandy Berger's intentions on history are no longer confined to removing unsavory notes from the National Archives. Now there are lawyers involved, and threats, and innuendoes of defamation.

Of course, there's the actual defamation to contend with, and therein lies the problem. How does one, as a matter of art, convey the general zeitgeist of nonfeasance, micromanagement and best-case scenario thinking endemic to the Clinton White House? Moreover, how does one, given time and narrative constraints, show viewers the justification for such myopic thinking, i.e., that we've gotten away with it this long...without resorting to composites and summaries?

You can't, not without playing fast with the facts. And five years on is too soon for people to quit remembering well the bald truths, the major players, and the terrible outcomes. Also, the 9/11 Commission Report, heralded by many as flawed but mostly accurate, is still in print. Quite simply, we are too close to the day--

you know where you were, as do I: I was on the second floor of Prairie Lights, in Iowa City, working on a novel about drug smugglers that has since failed, and my wife called, demanding I get home immediately; and I threw away my hazelnut cap with a double espresso depth charge, hopped on my bike, and rode like crazy from IC to Coralville. It was sunny.

--for some bullshit media fuck in Burbank to start bossing me around, demanding access to my mind and soul and memories, whispering sibilant that maybe I should fault this administration or that president or whatever for something that ultimately, was beyond most people's imaginations. Iger and his numb-nuts junior execs deserve every fleck of feces splattering them; unfortunately, the Clintonites didn't deserve the right to fling the poo.

Not that the Bush crew are any better: we romanticize the Clinton years, and as progressives we defend his legacy, as it were, because George W. Bush is, quite arguably, the worst President this country has ever had, and his administration, along with a criminally negligent congress and a journalistically complicit media complex, have fully erased the line between country and corporation. I include in that humble lay assessment, the absolutely appalling James Buchanan, and Herbert Hoover. Not even Hoover would have looked at the Great Depression, looming like a furious carnivore, and advised Hoovervillians to get out and go shopping.

Since the attacks, which Bush had been warned in several ways were impending, and which Clinton's legalistic hand-wringing might have enabled, the Congress, the major parties, and the President have never failed to pervert an opportunity for real understanding of this phenomenon for political ends. They have never failed to decrease transparency and increase secrecy. They have never failed to slander a critic--consider Max Cleland, in a split screen, with bin Laden.

Nor have they failed to use the fear of an increasingly sheepish population to further the ultimate aims of their neo-con intellectual masters: an uberCapitalist Shangri-La of regressive taxation, slave labor and strip malls to Sunday, where the wills of supranational NGO's like the WTO, and the comfort and wealth of Westerners are worth more than the lives of folks who might want to take a second look at they way human civilization is developing.

A pox on them all.

Shame on ABC for burying our grief before the body was cold, and for confusing artistic license with flat-out lying. Shame on Clinton for scamming BJ's while his FBI ignored its own agents and bin Laden's boys were learning to steer airlines. Shame on Albright for worrying after Musharraf's feelings when she knew the ISI was honeycombed with Jihadis, and for trusting Kim Jong Il. Shame on Sandy Berger for turning into such a lousy prick that he would loot the sacred National Archives, and try to smuggle documents out in his size XXXXL underwear, to protect his own reputation, and to hide his foreign policy waffling. Shame on Bush, period. Shame on Cheney, period. Shame on Condi, for drinking the cool aid. Shame on PNAC, for studying and mongering war...Shame on....Shame...


Jonathan Dresner | September 11, 2006

Coralville? We were practically neighbors. I don't find most of the Clinton reevaluation convincing, though I can see what you're basing it on. It seems to me that a lot of it can be explained as the translation of successful governorship tactics (small-state, anyway) to the presidency. You're right though: there are damned few "good guys" in this story....

zp | September 12, 2006

and this was an interesting contrarian position. and funny. chapati mystery gets a much needed shot in the arm. no offense sepoy, but you weren't actually posting for awhile. best, zp

farangi | September 12, 2006

Convinced? I'm flattered Jonathan Dresner even read my piece! I miss IC/Coralville.

sepoy | September 12, 2006 u turn...

saurav | September 18, 2006

as progressives we defend his legacy
Which part of the legacy were you referring to? Welfare Reform? DOMA? Prayer in schools? Sister Soulja? The immigration bills in 1996? Not pushing hard enough for the Kyoto Treaty or the International Criminal Court? Putting his personal political career above the interests of his political party or political agenda during the Lewinsky scandal (wherein he incensed rightwing Christians until they went from frothing to rabid)? If you're defending that $hit, progressive is the wrong word. The only part of his Presidential legacy I appreciate is that, perhaps, he stopped more harm from happening than would have otherwise happened. This, in and of itself, might be redemptive given that it's not so much that "the Bush crew aren't any better" as that they are far, far, far worse--and worse than Bush's father as well, who has more in common with Clinton in terms of policy and approach than either do with the Bush the younger. That "perhaps" I put in there is a big deal though and I certainly don't have enough evidence to evaluate it yet.

farangi | September 19, 2006

Saurav: the "as it were" was meant to lay a glaze of sarcasm over the word "legacy."