Influential Bill

Reigns may have changed, but for 8 hip years, Clinton impressed upon us lasting pop culture clout.

January 22, 2001|By Gary Dorsey | Gary Dorsey,SUN STAFF

He's gone.

But he's not.

Who felt your pain, didn't inhale, parsed words, knew the secret meaning of what "is" is and did not have sexual relations with that woman?

Who charged everyday objects with heightened meaning - a cigar, a blue dress, a beret, a cheeseburger?

You haven't forgotten, and you won't.

Even today, as a new man commands the White House, you will no sooner forget Bill Clinton than you will forget the Beatles, the Babe or Marilyn. Because for eight glorious years Bill Clinton's presidency reigned over American pop culture with greater aplomb and influence than Jerry Springer, the New York Yankees, hip-hop, Forrest Gump and the ghost of Elvis Presley.

Last week, he was the president. This week he's the icon.

Last week, he was on the way out. This week he's the lasting memorial to an economy that roared along with frat-party effervescence and a pop culture that reflected enormous appetites and startling success.

Who was that lip-chewing hunk with a story line like a Dixie Chicks' lyric - charmin', cheatin', lyin' and beggin' for forgiveness - but with larger-than-life confidence that, like Hillary, we would stand by our man?

Remember "Big Brother" and "Survivor"? Mere spin-offs of the presidency.

Who was as cuddly and annoying as a Furby, as in need of persistent tending as a Giga-Pet?

You betcha.

Unlike Richard Nixon, who set himself apart, or Jimmy Carter, who failed to comprehend the commoners' culture, or George Bush and Ronald Reagan, who were too old to play middle-class hipsters, the man some called Slick Willie honked on his sax, donned Blues Brothers shades, revealed his preference for briefs over boxers and made an anthem out of a Fleetwood Mac snoozer.

He was a boomer, for gosh sake. He was one of us.

If the man from Hope cast himself from the start as the Jimmy Stewart of his generation - who can forget the Hollywood version of his life that premiered at the 1992 Democratic convention? - he commanded the White House in a performance edgier, jiggier, more over-the-top than a Quentin Tarantino screenplay. In image, he was more potent than Viagra, more cunning than Bill Gates, more simulated than Olestra, more glamorous than Kevin Costner. In reality, he played out fantasies as goofy as a full season of "Ally McBeal."

Just flip the remote, open the latest rag.

Look, there's that Clinton spin-off, "The West Wing."

Look, there's Clinton's former press secretary, consultant for "The West Wing."

Look, there's that parody of Clinton's romps, "Primary Colors."

Look, there's that parody of Clinton's romps, "American Rhapsody."

Look, there's that movie about Clinton, "The War Room."

Look, there's the movie about Clinton, "Primary Colors."

Look, there's the movie about Clinton, "Wag the Dog."

Look, there's the movie about Clinton, "The Contender."

Look, there's Clinton in that movie, "Contact."

Look, there's that book that calls Clinton the new Elvis, "Double Trouble."

Look, there's that Clinton biography, "First in His Class."

Look, there's that Clinton biography, "Boy Clinton."

Look, there's that book about Clinton's impeachment, "An Affair of State."

Look, there's that book about Clinton's impeachment, "The Breach."

Look, there's that book about Clinton's girlfriends, "All The President's Women."

Look, there's that book by Clinton's ex-girlfriend, "Monica's Story."

Look, when are you going to have that new book about Clinton's marriage by Sen. Clinton?

To be fair, as professors and pundits spend the next 20 years working out his legacy with scholarly precision, they will surely remark on the former president's efforts to balance the federal budget, restructure welfare laws, transition the country into a post-Cold War world, dazzle colleagues with endearing charms and fierce intelligence. They will cast him at the helm of an unprecedented economic boom.

But when they turn to the enigma of Bill and how we as a nation loved him, hated him, coddled him, kicked him, listened to his plaintive moans, threatened to toss him out of the House, felt his pain and finally forgave him, all they need do is turn to the popular passions of the day.

For better or worse, Bill Clinton was popular culture, with a steady emphasis on popular.

And before this turns sentimental, you can bet on seeing him again soon, too, at a theater, bookstore, stage, TV studio or magazine rack near you.

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