Regarding the nominee

Richard Ben Cramer

July 16, 1992|By Richard Ben Cramer

WELL, here it is.

Our People mag arrived this week with the pictures of Bill and Hillary Clinton in the hammock, on the lawn, with their daughter -- "a little family," says the governor, "but a powerful one."

He's holding his wife's face in his hands. They're gorgeous, in love. America's couple!

And a month or so ago we were told it was divorce, for sure.

I guess this is his week. It's time for America to be told of his belief in God, his dogged hard work, his care for people, his crush on his daughter -- he took her to school every morning for eight years.

It's funny how America's press discerned this, just in the week of his convention. The guy has, you know, character.

No man could be such a paragon of brilliant goodness as the American press paints its winners. And no man could be such an irredeemable char-hearted schlub as the American press makes its losers.

The funny part is, it can change in a week: A couple of good speeches, a bump in the polls -- even a dip in someone else's polls -- and suddenly this guy's a giant, exemplary.

In New Hampshire, Bill Clinton got hit with everything but Gennifer Flowers' kitchen sink. And he kept running.

For weeks he was a mumbling Lothario, then a draft dodger. Couldn't even smoke a joint right. Gave sleazy state business to his wife's law firm. Of course, she ran him. Hard as nails she was. Wouldn't make cookies. She was a witch. He was lunch meat. They kept running.

People said they were driven, this couple, hanging on to each other for appearance or self-protection, tied by a thread of ambition. That was his story, in a word.

Made sense, kind of, with that twisted childhood that gave him his need for control, for power -- you know, driven.

No one was going to suggest -- not in print! -- that Bill and Hillary Clinton might be trying to do something good for their country. Maybe they kept running because their campaign wasn't just about their personal advancement or comfort. Maybe what was driving them was an idea larger than themselves.

But who was going to write that? Who would go soft on a guy who could be gone next week in a tabloid character-meltdown. Jeez, you could look like a fool!

The last time Bill Clinton spent a week in New York he was beset every minute by the character banshees who wanted him to explain his sickness of ambition.

"Let me tell you something," he shouted at one heckler. "If I were dying of ambition I wouldn't have stood up here and put up with all this crap I've put up with for the last six months. I'm fighting to change this country. . . .

"And I'm sick and tired of all these people who don't know me, know nothing about my life, know nothing about the battles I've fought, know nothing about the life I've lived, making snotty-nosed remarks about how I haven't done anything in my life and it's all driven ambition. That's bull, and I'm tired of it."

Of course, that just showed the guy might be too testy to be president.

When Al Gore became the VP nominee-to-be, he knew he'd have only a short time to get a message across before the noise of the horse race made all his words small.

He chose to talk about Bill Clinton; he thought the big thing we'd missed was the story of the man.

"His mother, a young, poor widow, had to go to work for everything they had," Mr. Gore said in a speech on Monday.

"Bill worked his way through school, worked his way through college, pulled himself up by his bootstraps, got one of the finest educations possible and then went back to Arkansas to help the people who he knew were living in the same circumstances from which he had come."

Gore said he'd come to know Clinton much better in the last few days and he hoped voters would get to know the man, as he had. Somehow, despite the millions of words in the governor's wake, despite all that people knew, or thought they knew -- even despite this week's People -- Al Gore said we don't know Bill Clinton at all.

And he might be right.

Richard Ben Cramer, a former Sun reporter who now lives in Cambridge, is author of "What It Takes: The Way to the White House."

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