Friday, 12 February 2010
Feeling the pain
I’m not sure I should feel the way I do about Bill Clinton. The news that he’s been hospitalized and had two pieces of stainless steel inserted into his body ( surely an uncomfortable procedure no matter what route is taken) should provide me and millions of others with a grim satisfaction. After all, this is the man who as governor of Arkansas refused to commute the death sentence of a mentally-handicapped African-American in case it’d look too liberal and damage his chances of election to the presidency. This is the man who ordered the bombing of civilians in the former Yugoslavia and whose sanctions against Iraq led to the deaths of some 250,000 Iraqi children in that country. This is the man who did things in the White House with a young intern and a cigar that may have seemed like a good idea at the time but which did little for the dignity of his office. This is the man who, when the Lewinsky scandal broke, stared into the lens of a TV camera and told the American people with impressive sincerity: ‘I did not have sex with that young woman’. Finally (and for me unforgettably) this is the man who saw fit to compare the struggle to establish reconciliation in Ireland with two drunks who keep vowing they’ll get off the sauce but always end up heading back to a boozer.
There are so many reasons to dismiss this man as at best ‘sex between two Bushes’ and at worst a war criminal, but none of them quite work. When I saw the breaking news yesterday that he’d been admitted to hospital and had two stents inserted in his arteries, instead of murmuring ‘So – God is not mocked!’, I felt a spasm of sympathy. There’s something about Bill - the lop-sided grin, the white hair, the red face, maybe the big nose that should stop him being good-looking but doesn’t – which disarms hostility. The man has charm which morphs into something beyond warmth when he’s sympathizing with those who’ve been bereaved or suffered other loss, as in New Orleans or Haiti. “I feel your pain” he tells people, and they believe him.
His ruthlessness, his womanizing, his lies: all that, somehow, gets burnt away in the power of his presence. “Be liked and you will never want” Willy Loman tells his son Biff in Death of a Salesman. He could have been thinking of Bill Clinton.