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Feature

Sweet Little Lies

By Sandy Asirvatham | Posted 1/17/2001

Being Bill Clinton

Sweet Little Lies

It May Be Necessary to Destroy the Democratic Party in Order to Save It

Brother Bill

The Hustler

Queer as Votes

Role Over

Oh Danny Boy

10 Years After, or A Tale of Two Ex-Presidencies

Charismatic leaders, the kind who start cults, are usually escapees from their own pasts--men (or, less frequently, women) who change their names, renounce their parents, erase their hometown histories, move to new cities or countries, seek to live outside the bounds of taxpaying, nuclear-family, church-on-Sunday convention. Under different circumstances, Bill Clinton might have turned out to be such a man, another David Koresh or Werner Erhardt.

If his mother had been abusive or at least less forceful in her love and attention; if young Bill's overwhelming charm and suit- salesman's knack for subtle flattery had not been counterbalanced by genuine intellectual gifts; if he'd come from an even smaller, grimmer sand trap than Hope, Ark., maybe the ambitious Clinton would have moved to Northern California in the 1970s, renamed himself Meister Schumacher or Baba Kundalini, and--employing his preternatural "common touch"--started a movement based on sharing, feeling each other's pain, and group hugs. And, of course, he would have fucked all the female initiates to his church, needy young women in search of surrogate fathers . . . and maybe he'd have fucked the men too. That's simply what these self-proclaimed messiahs do, to assuage the deep-seated insecurity and self-doubt that follow them despite their attempts at wholesale reinvention.

As it turns out, Bill Clinton took a far less pathological escape route to "legitimate" power, via Yale and Oxford. But the problem with being an arriviste is, you're never finished arriving. You retain that sense of being an outsider with something to prove. No matter what hallowed heights of authority he achieves, a person such as Clinton--who was not born with the facile sense of entitlement you'll find in a white, upper-middle-class, Ivy-bound child of the power elite such as George W. Bush--will always be driven to charm, to seduce, to flatter your intelligence, to win you over. Not everyone will be won over, of course, but many will (as were all those dyed-in-the-wool idealistic liberals who mistakenly believed the centrist Clinton to be one of their own). His essential insecurity, neediness, and dishonesty become the very source of his persuasiveness and power.

Those who hated Ronald Reagan thought of him as a dissembler, a liar, a hollow man and demagogue. Those who loved him called him the Great Communicator. It would be rather nervy of us liberals not to admit that Clinton shared Reagan's truth-bending traits. We may claim to want an "honest" president, a "good man," a real-life Josiah Bartlet--but what we really crave is someone who'll tell us the beautiful lies we most want to hear, and do so with more grace than Al Gore and less frat-boy arrogance than George W. Bush. Face it: Deeply honest people don't make beloved leaders.

Sandy Asirvatham is a City Paper contributing writer. Her column, Underwhelmed, appears biweekly.

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