President Clinton has some explaining to do

February 18, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

President Clinton recently said something that is even more confusing than when he makes policy-wonk talk.

He was at an auto plant in Louisiana, making a speech to the

workers, and he noted that there were some new trucks behind him.

He said: "When I was a younger man and had a life, I owned an Camino pickup in the '70s. It was a real sort of Southern deal. I had Astroturf in the back. You don't want to know why, but I did."

A couple of things in that statement puzzle me.

First, I don't understand what he means by: "When I was a younger man and had a life . . . in the '70s."

It seems to me that he has "a life" now, and a pretty lively one.

He lives in a fine mansion, with cooks, valets, maids, drivers, his own physicians and nurses, and countless other flunkies. He can walk downstairs to work in a minute or two. No bucking rush-hour traffic or waiting for a bus or train. He has helicopters and Air Force One to fly him wherever he wants to go. And at his request, even his closest chums call him "Mr. President."

Besides the creature comforts, he is on one of the great power trips of our time, turning entire professions and industries on their ears. Doctors fear him. Giant pharmaceutical and medical supply companies quake. Many small businessmen are more afraid of him than of any two guys in ski masks carrying pistols.

I don't know what he was doing back in the '70s that can top all of this. For a while, he was in England as a Rhodes Scholar. Then at Yale Law School. And before the '70s were over, he had run for Congress, become Arkansas' attorney general, and at age 32, its governor.

That wasn't exactly hanging out at Bubba's Saloon and swapping stories about the lunker catfish you caught that morning.

On the other hand, maybe going to Yale Law School was his

idea of real kicks. As that old Yale Law School saying goes: Different kicks for different hicks.

But the real puzzler is his reference to having had his own pickup truck, saying: "It was a real sort of Southern deal. I had Astroturf in the back. You don't want to know why, but I did."

Although I've spent considerable time in the South, I'm not a Southerner. Nor have I owned a pickup truck, with or without Astroturf. So I don't grasp the significance of having a truck with Astroturf.

He says: "You don't want to know why." But since he is the president, and anything he says is significant, I do want to know why he had Astroturf in the back of his pickup truck.

I called the White House press office and asked about the Astroturf. The person on the phone had me spell my name twice, then said there would be no information forthcoming.

So I asked a few of my Southern acquaintances about why a young Southern man in the 1970s would have Astroturf in the back of his pickup truck.

The first one, obviously a Republican, said: "Maybe when he was between political payrolls, he had a job as an undertaker. You know, way back in the woods, they don't have regular hearses. Just throw the stiffs in the back of the pickup."

That sounded unlikely, so I sought a second opinion.

This man said: "Well, you know that Clinton is a golfer. So he probably had the Astroturf installed to practice his putting and chipping. This is common among young Southern gents. Yes, he probably would get in the back of the truck and try to perfect his stroke."

That makes sense.

But another Southerner said: "Being an urban Northerner, you probably don't appreciate the affection that Southerners have for their animals. If he kept animals, it is possible that he put in the Astroturf to make them comfortable. Being from Arkansas, which is known as the Razorback state, it might very well have been a pig. Yes, I can see Clinton being concerned about the comfort of some pig in the back of his truck."

That, too, sounds plausible, since Clinton has displayed a strong social conscience. But why wouldn't he tell us that himself?

Well, I'm sure he has his reasons. But if he puts Astroturf in the back of Air Force One, he'll have to explain.

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