Vital Signs

Image Is Everything

For at least a year now—ever since the evidence became intellectually irrefutable while yet being emotionally deniable—every second sentence written or spoken about Bill Clinton by the dominant media has begun with the word "if." Reduced to its essence, the two-sentence refrain goes like this: Americans do not believe Bill Clinton. If Bill Clinton can become credible, Americans will believe him. And if my eyes were brown, they wouldn't be blue. Absent possibility, if foretells fantasy. Here is reality: Bill Clinton is not credible, therefore Americans do not believe him. Like the journalists who cover him, however, the President seems baffled by such simplicity. "Character," he has said, "is a journey, not a destination." Well, so is a drive to the Grand Canyon, but isn't the ultimate point to get there?

For lack of a better theory, I have come to believe that the purpose of Bill Clinton's election was existential—he is what the country had to encounter in order to move on. Only with his personality in that office at this moment could Americans confront with such pristine perfection, such pragmatic promise, all that they loathe about politicians: the simultaneous sucking up to and disdain for public opinion; the nearly pathological refusal to give a direct answer; the assumption that attitude can substitute for behavior and behavior for action; the sin of pride made even...

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