(Since in American culture it is on Halloween common to assume the identity of another, I figure today is as good a day as any to revisit this piece I originally posted February 3, 2008 to the Great Pumpkin, in which I assumed the identity of, and spoke as, Bill Clinton’s fabled member, The Clenis.
(I was feeling then generous to both Clintons, I and II, because it seemed to me then certain that their son and heir, Barack Obama, would become the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, rather than Clinton II.
(I should have known they still had a lot more fight in them, the Clintons. And they both made me very, very angry at times, over the next several months, as they continued to roughly resist the inevitable. But though, like Henry II in the film clip embedded at the end of this piece, Clinton I surely wanted to kill his son, in the end he just couldn’t do it. Today, like Clinton II, he actually works for him.
(Since this story sorta goes on forever, it’s okay if you don’t finish reading it until next Halloween.)
Hey. Clenis here. How ya’ll doin’? Sure been a while.
Yeah, used to be you couldn’t look at a TV, pass a radio, or pick up a newspaper, without runnin’ into me.
Then, I was on everybody’s lips. Back during that Publican stage-directed soap opera, 17th-Century style, where my havin’ gone on walkabout was used to try to whip ol’ Bill, like some latter-day Hester Prynne, from out the Oval Office.
No, I couldn’t believe it, either. No more than could the rest of the world—out there they were first amused, then bewildered, and finally pretty scared. Would have locked their doors to us, if they could. As it is, in the histories, when the Clenis impeachment comes ’round, it will go down writ large, as one of the most embarrassing American spectacles of the century . . . right alongside the WWII internment camps, and that imperial war on Spain phonied up by an excitable asthmatic and a dour newspaperman.
But that was then. These days, it ain’t me that’s gettin’ Bill into trouble. Nope: this time the offending organ is his mouth. Course, they’re gettin’ it all wrong about his mouth, now, just like they once got it all wrong about me. Jump over the “furthur” there, and I’ll tell you about it.
Before I speak for my fellow organ, a paragraph or thirteen about me, The Clenis.
It was Bill himself who said the truest thing about why I ended up gettin’ acquainted with Ms. Lewinsky. Dan Rather, with his serious face on, asked Bill this: “The central question, if I may, and I know this is difficult, the central question is: why?”
And this was Bill’s reply:
“Because I could.”
Now, Bill of course then immediately commenced with the “morally indefensible” and “I was a fool” handwringing . . . which is what is required of every suitably chagrined and repentant 21st Century Hester Prynne, here in this weirdsmobile of a cracked Calvinist country. That he didn’t get, deep, into just what “because I could” really means: hell, I couldn’t hold that against him. They would have just started stonin’ him anew.
But if Bill had wanted to get the ball rollin’, he could have pushed off with ol’ Gore Vidal, who probably knows more about sex and politics in America than any person alive.
In a 1959 essay for The Nation, Vidal considered the Robert Graves translation of The Twelve Caesars, by that old-time scribe Suetonius. In this book, Suetonius treats twelve men who ruled the Roman Empire from 49 BCE to CE 46, and who ruled with something like absolute power. And a lot of what Suetonius talks about is stuff that is “blue.”
Gibbon, in his stately way, mourned that of the twelve Caesars only Claudius was sexually “regular.” From the sexual opportunism of Julius Caesar to the sadism of Nero to the doddering pederasty of Galba, the sexual lives of the Caesars encompassed every aspect of what our post-medieval time has termed “sexual abnormality.” It would be wrong, however, to dismiss, as so many commentators have, the wide variety of Caesarean sensuality as simply the viciousness of twelve abnormal men. They were, after all, a fairly representative lot. They differed from us—and their contemporaries—only in the fact of power, which made it possible for each to act out his most recondite sexual fantasies. This is the psychological fascination of Suetonius. What will men so placed do? The answer, apparently, is anything and everything.
Though Vidal doesn’t specifically go there, all this is true of women, too. Montaigne wrote a memorable essay in which he was damn impressed by Messalina, wife of Claudius, who, while Claudius was out and about slaying Celts, would host all-night omnisexual orgies, after which she would inevitably lapse into what them French call ennui, the prolonged exertions of 25 separate men clasped in her arms having left her exhausted, but wanting, somehow, more.
Well, but, those folks, you may cry, they was pagans! Of course they couldn’t control their Clenises! They did not know Our Lord Jesus Christ! Or at least The Blessings Of America!
Righto. So let’s try the Founding generation. George Washington, known as “The Father Of Our Country,” although he was sterile, he married his wife for her riches, and then proceeded to share his Clenis with at least seven other women, including, during the Revolutionary War, a woman who was a British spy.
Thomas Jefferson fathered out of wedlock a child with Sally Hemings, a slave. Benjamin Franklin also produced several children without benefit of clergy. The father of Alexander Hamilton, well, he was not the man who was married to Hamilton’s mother. Hamilton’s own Clenis caused him to succumb to blackmail, levied by the husband of one of his lovers. Hamilton, he eventually got himself killed in a duel with Aaron Burr, after Hamilton had whispered about that Burr engaged in sexual congress with his own daughter. Vidal, who knows more multi-generational American political gossip than any man currently drawing breath, says that Martin Van Buren, the nation’s eighth president, was secretly sired by Burr.
Gouverneur Morris, whose work on the Constitution, ol’ President Doofus beatified in his final how-I’m-diddlin’-the-union speech, he lost a leg in a fast high-dive out a second-floor window, needin’ to get away quick before a man comin’ up the stairs found Morris with that man’s wife. Later, in France, Morris escaped the rage of a Paris mob—bent on bloodyin’ aristocratic powderheads—when he unbuckled his wooden leg, waved it over his head, and thundered that he had lost his limb in the struggle for American liberty.
That was then, you say, but this is now? Okay. When death came for FDR, he died in the arms of a lover. His wife, Eleanor, she also had lovers, mostly women. Dwight Eisenhower was going to divorce his wife Mamie and marry the jeep-drivin’ British woman who succored his Clenis during WWII, until George Marshall threatened to cashier him. William O. Douglas, maybe the best Supreme Court justice this country ever produced, occasionally came to conference reeking of sustained carnality, not always achieved with one of his four wives.
JFK: do we really need to go there? And it sure weren’t only Lady Bird that was meetin’ and greetin’ the LBJ Clenis down there in Texas. Nelson Rockefeller actually died inside his “secretary.”
Ronald Reagan: now there was a piece of work. While out in Hollywood, he often downed so much liquor he’d awake the next morning not knowin’ who in the Sam Hill that was in the bed beside him. Even as wife Nancy was in the hospital giving birth to his child, Reagan bounced the bedsprings in Beverly Hills with his lover. While campaigning for president, Reagan shared his Clenis with a young campaign worker. Wife Nancy, when in Hollywood, was renowned as the best practitioner of oral sex in all of Tinseltown.
George I had his Jennifer Fitzgerald. Hell, even Bob Dole, pre-Viagra, was led astray by his Clenis: the Washington Post had the story prior to the 1996 election, but spiked it, outta pity, because the poor guy was already gettin’ beat like a gong by my Bill.
Not to mention all those no-good, two-faced, so-and-so’s, who, all the time they were shoutin’ that me, The Clenis, was the very Incarnation of Evil, knew that their own organs had run wild, all over the country.
Newt Gingrich. Bob Livingston. Helen Chenoweth. Henry Hyde. Dan Burton. Bob Barr. Matt Drudge. Rush Limbaugh. Ann Coulter. George Will. And those ain’t all, let me tell you. I’m not namin’ the names of those that got away with their stories intact, but you go on and look at some of the funny-timed “retirements” from Congress, there in ’96 and ’98. Larry Flynt, he may be a dirtbag, but sometimes it takes one to find one. People were falling all over themselves, to get out of government, afore Larry started squawkin’ about their Cleni.
Sorry. I do tend to get worked up about this. Still. Being a Clenis, I’m not equipped with much in the way of hands, or lips, so I don’t often get a chance to go on about this. Usually it’s the mouth, in this outfit, that says what needs to be said. But ol’ Bill’s mouth, it’d be happy if it never had to say word one about me, ever again. Can’t say I blame it. You ever had your private parts become public yammerin’ property, for 18 straight months?
It’s a hell of a thing.
Anyway. If I were ever to get myself some hands, I’d right away write up a book called something like Wayward Clenises In American Political History. And it’d be a thick bugger. Thicker than any bible, that’s for sure. (Not that there ain’t a lot of wanderin’ Clenises in that tome, too. )
Yeah, I know. When Bill was havin’ to atone for my “sins”—head down, hang-dog, flayed—he took to luggin’ that big ol’ King James around. Part of the game.
But me—I’ve never had much truck with god-smackers. As a fuckin’ reproductive organ, I think I might know just a little bit more about the meaning and purpose of life than some clown-car of carny-barkers, foamin’ down there in Arkansas that you got to fondle poisonous snakes to prove your faith, or fallin’ like the Pope there to their knees all over WWII to “join in joyful prayers,” saying “novenas for the Nazis and ask[ing] God to intercede for their total victory in Russia.” But these sorts, they’d take up my book, my Wayward Clenises In American Political History, and they’d say it was so thick because people are thick with sin. And, as usual, they’d be spoutin’ whaleshit. See, my book, it’d be so thick, because the people in it had been thick with bein’ people.
Look. Now that we in the West have managed to fight free of about 1700 years of god-smackin’ Dark Ages, and have got Science back, it’s pretty much clear that the purpose of all life, from the dill plant over yonder, to ol’ Bill here, is to create new life.
That, at the root, is all of it.
It’s settled in science that human males are genetically programmed to spread seed as widely as they can, in hopes that somewhere, in someone, some new life will sprout.
It used to be concluded that female programmin’ tended more towards seekin’ out solely the biggest, strongest, toughest mate, somebody who’d be around during the long gestation period, and the years of newborn helplessness that follows after. But that’s turnin’ into horseshit now, too.
Cause now, we’re learnin’, life has cannily programmed women to range widely, too—because there are life-producin’ benefits in invitin’ in more than one Clenis.
With the advent of DNA testing, family trees—why, they’re hittin’ the ground with a thud. Over in England, one study discovered that between 10-25% of past people were not fathered by the people they had thought to be their fathers.
Just imagine what the figure would be like in a nation like, well, France, or Cuba, where people have actually, historically, liked sex.
(And, of course, we know now, too, that life also programs some among us to eschew this whole direct life-producin’ process altogether, as same-sex relationships are both common, and genetically indicated, in life-forms from frogs to birds, cats to people.)
What the god-smackers endlessly yammer on about these days—lifelong marriage between one man and one woman—was invented in Europe around the 12th Century, and it was all about the transfer of property, not hewin’ to some natural, Yahweh-ordained law.
Not coincidentally, the concept of “romantic love,” heretofore unknown, was also born at this time, in the French court of Eleanor of Acquitaine. And as a reaction to marriage: once yoked for money-grubbin’ reasons to a spouse, a proper lady or gentleman could then be expected to cleave emotionally, and then sexually, to a lover.
Eleanor. Damn. That was some woman. And people think Hillary is tough. Eleanor, married to the King of France, demanded the right to ride with her ladies to the Crusades. And did so. Bare-friggin’-breasted. While on the road to the “infidel,” she was smitten by the young pretender to the throne of England. So she leaned hard on a pliant Pope, had her marriage annulled, and took up with this young brash man, who soon—with her help—became Henry II of England.
When, later, Henry failed to show her the proper respect, Eleanor raised his own sons against him, in a series of familial civil wars. It was Eleanor who occasioned the lines, in the stage-play and film The Lion in Winter, muttered there by Henry II, and later repeated in my presence, by ol’ Bill, on those nights he spent “in the doghouse,” wandering, alone, the halls of the White House, and which you can see and hear in the video embedded at the end of this thing:
I want no women in my life. I could have conquered Europe—all of it—but I had women, in my life.
Bill, these days, feels, as did Henry II in that play: that his own sons have risen against him. They want to take his throne, and before he is ready to relinquish it.
The monarch today wishes, in his 21st Century incarnation, to pass the scepter first to his wife—as befits a medieval monarch—before it passes to his sons. But his “sons,” now as then, are not willing to wait. In The Lion In Winter, the monarch, in discovering his own sons plotting—and with his lifelong enemies—against him, explodes, appalled: “Who do you think I built this kingdom for?” To which, answers “son,” “John”:
Me, I’m of two minds (so far as a Clenis can be said to have a mind) about whether Bill should pass the scepter to Hillary, or whether Barack Obama, “son” of Bill, this country’s first “black president,” should succeed in reaching in and snatching it from out her hands.
As part of Bill: sure, I’d like him to be happy. But as part of Bill: sure, I’d also like him to be alive.
You all tried to impeach his ass, and you failed; but in the process, you just about buried him. That heart operation, that wasn’t some easy thing. Look at a picture of ol’ Bill from, say, ’95, and then look at one of him now. Not good—right? Still think it’s the same-ol’ happy-chappy Mr. Frisky down here? Not on our life. Mr. Bill, he’s passed through a lot. The White House, again, with all the hate people direct, in huge poisonous psychic waves, towards him? Truth? It’ll kill him.
What I want to say is just this. What all these thousands of words have meant to carry cross the great divide is that Bill deployed me, The Clenis, only in the way that almost every human being, in his position, just like him, would have.
He was president: he was power: thus, me and Ms. Lewinsky, we rub-a-dub-dubbed: “because [he] could.” Just like most every president, every emperor, every rich person, every rock star, every actor, every writer, every beauty, every celebrity, would have . . . and has. Ms. Lewinsky, if ol’ Bill had been a street-sweeper, never would have given him a second look. But all and everybody, male or female, who gets into some position where s/he is regarded as something other than just his or her real self, gets these unearned “because I could” opportunities. And just about every damn one of them succumbs.
Remember that carpenter guy, Jesus? When he come upon folks stoning an adulteress, he stooped over and wrote something in the dirt. And then he said: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.” And all in that crowd, why they faded right away.
You want to get onto Bill, and after all this time, because of what I did? Then your own Clenis, your own Clagina, better be squeaky clean. And, if it is squeaky clean, that just means you ain’t yet lived your life the way life means you to.
And so, at last, we reach Bill’s mouth.
Yeah, well, in those days after Hillary lost in Iowa, Bill’s face got purple, his finger started pointin’, and his mouth started spewin’ words hasty and rash.
People, they come up with all sorts of theories. Most of ’em contradicted each other. It was all planned. No emotion in it. Cold. Calculated. Bill, like a bull, callin’ on Obama, darin’ him to come, mano-a-mano, into the ring. Bill, like some 21st Century George Wallace, callin’ down white hoods. Bill, like some creepy-crawly sociopath, intentionally spewin’ lies, this way and that, all in the service, by any means necessary, of anointing as president wife Hillary.
Hell. It’s so much simpler than that. Bill—and he couldn’t help himself—was just defendin’ his woman.
Take yourself. In your relationship. Particularly after some years on, particularly after some gnarly set-to, there may come a time when you fulminate that your lover is “the new medusa,” “the dragon in the doorway.” But, odds are, even your best friend, sayin’ that about your lover, to your face . . well, that best friend may risk bein’ scratched, gettin’ decked.
Bill, see, loves Hillary . . . in whatever way you want to define “love.” It don’t weigh a damn, whether I, The Clenis, may have dipped in and out of some woman or nine other than she. That’s not what matters. What matters is that Bill and Hillary, long ago, bled into one. They’re paired. Bill’s place, his stand, is with Hillary. He can hear any shit said about himself, and keep his cool. He hears any shit said at all about her, and his cool is unglued.
Look at it: if you’re lucky: if you’ve got something like “love”: you’re the same way.
The reason why ol’ Bill’s face goes purple and his finger points and his words range rash and far afield is because he can’t be the cold calculating politician when his lover is stretched there on the rack. He’s just got to kick out and kick ass till he can boot her back onto her feet.
And I confess: I like that about him. I like that he flails about, caught in that connection, even when it renders him, to all the world, an embarrassment, a buffoon. Because it reminds me of what I, with my counterpart there in Hillary, have done. Which is what we came here for. My job—me, The Clenis—in my time, on this planet, was (besides havin’ us some fun) to create some new life, some new life better than what had come before. And you know what? With Chelsea, we’ve done that. That gal . . . what more could you ask? I look for one word, and I find: serenity. Chelsea, she never slipped drunkenly to the floor, legs asprawl, in some scummy Rio dive, like them Bush-league girls. She never tugged on her SS guards to get her and her fucked-up boy-toy out of some jam, like them Bush-league girls. Even after all the hell we all dragged her through, she seems to have emerged better than Bill, better than Hillary. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
As ol’ Bill used to sing, singing along there with Bob Dylan, back there in London, back when he wasn’t (sure) inhalin':
and if I die
on top of the hill
and if i don’t make it
you know my baby will
As for us oldsters, and them youngsters, too—me, Bill, Hillary, Barack, all and every; hell, even the Publicans—I wish this:
I hope we never die. Do you think, there’s any chance of it?