“I couldn’t forgive him or like him but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy. They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.
“I shook hands with him; it seemed silly not to, for I felt suddenly as though I were talking to a child.”
So wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald near the end of “The Great Gatsby.” Take out Tom and Daisy, plug in Bill and Hillary; take out money and plug in power … and you have the epitaph and legacy of their White House years. And we are the others who must now attend to the mess. From petty white House sabotage and graffiti to a faltering economy, a sagging defense, and a trashed political culture, it’s ours now to set right.
Of course, neither Bill nor Hillary will be going away any time soon. Nor should they. Mrs. Clinton has a genuine new chapter to write, should that be possible. As for Bill, it is entirely proper and beneficial that he remain in the public eye for a while more. No, not just to discomfit his party, nor to pretend that anything resembling justice will ever be achieved. Rather . . . well, this is a psychologized society, so let’s just put this in the proper vocabulary.
For nearly a decade now, Bill Clinton and the American people have had an abusive codependent relationship in which Bill was the abuser, and the people, all of us, the enablers. We wanted it. We put up with it. We tolerated it. We came back for more. And now that it’s over and we are beginning to realize just how bad it was, we want to move on. But we can’t, not until we take the measure of the awfulness and understand why it happened.
But who are we, and what is the measure?
We are the people who worked for him and with him, who aided and abetted him. We’re the insiders who knew when to leave and how to profit from the association. We’re the aides and assistants who are getting around to disavowing him now that he no longer offers anything to justify the corruption. We’re the people with the book agents now.
We’re the people who loathed him, but supported and defended him because his policies were to our liking. The unions, especially the teachers unions. What’s left of the feminist movement. What is left of the civil rights movement. The eco-obsessives, the Nanny State administrators and wannabes, the intellectual drivel-mongers of what’s left of the left.
We’re the people who, to borrow from St. Paul, not only do such things but take pleasure in them that do. Let us speak plainly here: the so-called entertainment industry.
We’re the people who shrugged it off with “So what?”
And, in some ways most pernicious of all, the conservatives who didn’t understand what we were up against. We thought that if we hurled our self-evident truths, if we got sufficiently preachy with the choir and sufficiently scolding with the rest, some sort of miraculous renaissance of righteous indignation might somehow ensue. What we did not understand, and have yet even to consider, is why so many of our brothers and sisters found Bill Clinton less appalling and less endangering than us.
Why did it go on for so long? Perhaps because, deep down, we knew he was a child. Now, children can be very demanding, but what they want is usually rather easy for the grown-ups to provide. Children can be very difficult, but that’s also a part of their charm. At a town meeting during the 1992 campaign, some whimpering jerk in the audience said to then-candidate Bill Clinton: “We are your children.” Conservative columnists huffed and puffed at the notion. What they didn’t see was that it was really the other way around. He was our child. And because he only asked of us what children want, and because it was not unpleasant to give, we never demanded that he grow up.
But that was then, this is post-then. As he left the White House, Bill Clinton suddenly seemed to morph into an adult an ugly, criminal, petulant adult. And now the New York Times informs us that he is in a funk, suffering the spoiled child’s worst nightmare: no one left to admire him, provide for him, keep him the center of their universe.
Time for Bill Clinton to grow up. And time for all of us to understand that we had this abusive codependent relationship with a child because we wanted it, too; because he asked us to be adults only in the ways children want us to be adults . . . and that, in so doing, we became childish and degraded.
Put differently: The question of whether Bill Clinton can now grow up is also the question of whether we can grow up, and that means more than moving grown-ups into the White House. When Gerald Ford succeeded Richard Nixon, he announced that our long national nightmare was over. Today our long national slumber party has ended. Time to get up, clean up, go to work.
As for Bill Clinton, I wish him well. May he find inner peace and work worthy of his enormous talents. He is, after all, one of us.
And always will be.