Remnick on Clinton (Bill just wants to be loved)

Even by New Yorker standards I think the article might qualify as elephantine. Perhaps this is simply one of the advantages of penning a profile for the magazine you edit, or perhaps the length is meant to underline the cultural significance, the historical moment of it all: David Remnick, leading member of the liberal bien pensant media-intellectual set, expatiating on Bill Clinton, bill-clinton.jpgpresent-day icon and former President (Sept. 18 edition; and now available on-line). Then again, we might just as easily say expiating. For, of course, Clinton is more than simply one more ex-President. The failure of his presidency – an especially bitter one when one considers what it helped pave the way for – is also the failure of the American liberals who put their hopes in Clinton (many of whom subscribe to the New Yorker).

This is perhaps one means to account for the unexpected tone of Remnick’s piece. Certainly there are some more than obligatory nods to Clinton’s post-presidential philanthropy and its not altogether self-serving motivations, but on the whole the portrayal of Clinton is uncharitable to the point of being mean-spirited, even vindictive. The use of italics, for example, is always discretionary when recounting speech and Remnick never seems to pass over an opportunity to make Clinton sound gushing and worthy of mockery. “Oh Hillary just loves giraffes” is a typical Clinton comment mediated by Remnick. There is also no shortage of snide authorial asides and non sequitur conversational snippets from Clinton that, again, appear designed to make him out as something of a buffoon. In general, the impression one has of Clinton after reading the article is of the kind of person you’d hate to be stuck sitting beside on a plane (as Remnick often was; although these planes were owned by hedge-fund managers), a logorrheic blowhard whose knowledge is as broad as it is shallow.

But I’m not questioning the veracity of Remnick’s account. It may all be true – and likely is; I don’t, for example, need much convincing that Bill has a boundless appetite for the adulation of others. Indeed, we should perhaps be grateful for Remnick’s honesty. (Here’s a recent intelligent portrait of Remnick in The Guardian.) It’s just the snideness of his treatment that leads me to venture there’s more at work in this piece than simply a journalistic desire for verisimilitude. Something about it smacks of a long-awaited score-settling. Not that Bill didn’t have it coming.

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2 Responses to “Remnick on Clinton (Bill just wants to be loved)”

  1. Zach Everson Says:

    I don’t think Bill just wants to be loved. From the article it’s clear that he wants to save people from being killed by HIV/AIDS. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?

  2. didactique Says:

    Granted the headline was a tad reductive (don’t know how my editors let that one slip through) but my point wasn’t that Remnick was portraying Clinton as exclusively driven by self-serving motivations, only that it struck me as a uniquely unflattering portrait – drawing a surprising amount of attention to Clinton’s flaws; chief among them, perhaps, being his apparent boundless need for admirers – and this, in turn, struck me as politically significant. That said, my “expiation” thesis as a means to account for my reading of Remnick’s “tone” is just that, a thesis. And none of this speculation takes away from the fact that Clinton clearly very much wants a way to save people from being killed by HIV/AIDS (don’t we all) and is actually doing something about it (this does not apply to us all). (But nor does it change the fact he did little about it during his presidency, a point underlined with relish by Remnick, who suggests Clinton is now engaging in a little atoning of his own.)

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