READING BILL CLINTON
12:00 AM, Sep 2, 1996 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
"When opportunity and responsibility are in balance, when each is given equal value -- in our families, our businesses, our neighborhoods, and the nation as a whole -- we achieve the objective we all seek, a community of purpose and a clearer vision of the American Dream -- a dream we all hope to share as part of our American community."
Now, I challenge the most accomplished grammarians in this, the greatest country on the face of the earth, to parse that sentence. As I read it -- and I've read it to the point of migraine -- it suggests that within our own communities we as a people must give equal value to opportunity and responsibility in order to achieve a community filled with businesses and families that will help us share a community, which in turn will enable us to dream of a vision of another dream -- a dream, moreover, that is capitalized - - and this is the objective we all seek as part of our community. Or am I wrong?
The president's attitude toward language recalls Thomas Beecham's comment on the English attitude toward music: "They don't much like music, but they rather like the noise it makes." This preference is essential to his art. He uses language not to illuminate but to obscure. Every ten pages or so, the president issues a ringing disclaimer about the limitations of government.
"The truth is that government's role in strengthening families, while important, is limited."
"It's clear that the federal government alone cannot begin to provide solutions."
Meanwhile, the nine pages preceding and following such passages are devoted to a laundry list of federal programs he has produced to address some national emergency. On one page, there's a National Tread Conservation Strategy to help you rotate your tires; on the next, a Federal Lights Out Initiative to make sure you tuck your kids in at night. I exaggerate, but only slightly. The dissonance is deafening.
Is this the committee again at work, or is it the true voice of the man who smoked dope but didn't inhale? I think it's the latter. When you set the book aside, you can't help but be struck by its paradoxical effect. For all the clouds of obfuscation that billow from its pages, for all the double talk and dissembling and fudging, the portrait of Bill Clinton that emerges at last is as exquisitely etched as the finest crystal, and just as transparent. The wonkiness, the contradictions, the wordiness; the double-talk, the dissembling, the fudging: Here is the man as he is. Whoever would know our president would do well to read this book. It belongs in your library, with Boy Clinton on one side and Blood Sport on the other.
By Andrew Ferguson