Clinton's voters remain uneasy about his style


October 15, 1992|By DAN RODRICKS

It probably won't matter a hill of beans, but I keep hearing people who plan to vote for Bill Clinton complain that there's something about him they don't like. It has to do with style, not substance, which figures. We're pretty much gonzo about style in this country.

Though they'll probably vote for him anyway, some people say they don't like the way Clinton speaks, the way he moves his hands.

Almost everything he says sounds like a speech bordering on a sermon -- as if it were written, edited, memorized and rehearsed in front of a mirror.

I agree. If the election doesn't work out for him, Clinton could anchor the 11 o'clock news in a city the size of Baltimore. He has the hair for the job. He'd make as much as an anchorman as he'd make as president, and have the same amount of job security. He'd look great in one of those touchy-feely Friends-You-Can-Turn-On-Your-Side-To TV commercials that promote local news personalities.

Some people go further to say Clinton is too smart, too informed, with too many answers for too many problems facing American society. He seldom stumbles over a word, seldom leaves a sentence incomplete. He speaks in paragraphs. His delivery is too refined.

I've heard this rap from a significant number of people, including Democrats who set their mind to vote for Clinton six months ago. I heard a chorus of this criticism after Sunday night's televised debate and expect to hear more after tonight's.

But what are we talking about here?

This reminds me of the scene in the film "Amadeus," when Mozart is told that his superb opera contains "too many notes," because envious and idiotic court musicians can't think of anything else to say.

Slick Willie certainly is practiced in the fine art of public speaking, but so what? You like maybe Dan Quayle's gift for oratory? You think maybe George Bush is more sincere? You prefer the eloquence of Vice Adm. Stockdale?

Clinton can recite facts -- about health insurance costs, the number of people on welfare, and more -- off the top of his head. And people want to knock him for being slick.

I'll give you this: Clinton probably could use a cold shower.

The guy needs to chill out a bit. Some of his oratory is overwhelming. He could drop a few notes now and then. It wouldn't hurt.

But, hey, understand the guy. He's like the overgrown senior class president -- that earnest and bright kid who was liked more by parents and teachers than by his own classmates. He wanted to please everybody. Always with the smile. Always raising his hand to volunteer for something. Always giving corny speeches. Always wearing a clean, starched shirt.

Just before his 17th birthday, Clinton was one of Arkansas' representatives to Boys Nation, an annual pilgrimage to Washington by outstanding students sponsored by the American Legion. That's how he got to shake hands with President Kennedy in the Rose Garden. I'm sure you've seen the photograph by now.

Because he attended Boys Nation, Clinton probably was first a delegate to Arkansas Boys State. I went down that road myself -- millions of guys have -- about eight years after Clinton did. It was a great experience.

From what I remember, there were three kinds of Boys Staters: The real rah-rah boys who were so straight and wholesome that American Legion mentors picked them to lead all the activities; the guys in the middle who just went along for the adventure; and the brainy guys who went to Boys State even though their hair was too long and they were more interested in Jethro Tull than in lectures on constitutional law.

I'm betting Clinton was a rah-rah boy who actually believed he could grow up to be president. And yet, that's another reason people knock him. They say his dream of being president proves that Clinton has been blinded by ambition his entire adult life. Is this a weird election, or what?

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