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"Mr. Bill's Neighborhood"
Page added 1997
Last updated: May 2003
One July day, the political end of Rolling Stone met with Bill Clinton at Doe's Eat Place, a diner in Little Rock, Arkansas. William Greider and Hunter S. Thompson were both veterans of the 1972 campaign ("Maybe weird politics runs in twenty-year cycles. The last time I became ensared in Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's delusional reality was on the campaign trail in 1972, when Richard Nixon was trashing George McGovern and the Constitution. The doctor's apocalyptic rumblings turned out to be the only accurate account of that doomed presidential election" p42), Jann Wenner was the publisher of RS who decided to make it more than a music mag, and P.J. O'Rourke the only Republican in the bunch. This is issue RS 639, September 17, 1992.
This issue features a rather lovely and handsome portrait of Mr. Bill - he's wearing a spiffy tie, and compared to the saggy chicken skin look of Reagan and Bush, appears strong and confident. This is emphasized by the caricature above the table of contents inside, "Supreme Cruelty" by Sue Coe, one of many in a series called "The Bush Years". It almost seems like a sure bet that Bush won't be re-elected.
Jann S. Wenner uses a full page letter to say why RS readers should vote for Clinton; that Clinton and Al Gore are "of this generation" and the "rare possibility of true change has arrived".
The pieces inside consist of the interview plus three seperate articles by Greider, O'Rourke and Thompson. Greider carries the weight of the interview, with Thompson and O'Rourke bowing out about halfway through (although they come back at the end), and Wenner popping in now and then. Clinton's answers are long and insightful, or as Greider points out, "(h)e has a penchant for going too deep into the contours of an issue - and losing his audience in the process (namely O'Rourke and HST)" (p44)
Greider is the straight man, O'Rourke the token right-wing comic ("So what did we learn here? Bill Clinton's favourite Beatle is Paul McCartney. He voted for the skinny Elvis stamp (which doesn't show much self-knowledge). Also, he bites his nails - though they're bitten in a tidy, thoughtful manner..." (p47)) and HST the gonzo prophet.
Q&A: JANN: I was struck at the convention, after the acceptance speech, with all of you up there not only dancing to Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" but singing along with it. It warmed my heart, and I thought, "This is truly a generational ticket.
HST: Remember Carter memorized all of Bob Dylan's lyrics?
BILL: He did?
JANN: But when he was asked to name his favourite Dylan song, he couldn't. He said, "I can't; there's too many." And pressed to name two or three, he still couldn't give two or three. [for the record, in the A&E Biography special, Carter was able to name "Down on Maggie's Farm" and "The Times They-Are-A-Changing"]
HST:But he did quote Dylan in his Law Day speech. He cited Dylan and Reinhold Niebuhr as his two influences. It seduced me.
P.J.: Seduced you? You were out the door and -
HST: Yeah. I was a believer. Excuse me, I didn't mean to -
BILL: Yeah. Sometimes I think you can overdo this generational business....
HST: Is bank reform going to energize the fifty percent of the electorate who don't vote?
BILL: Well, let's talk about the economy for a while, and then we'll come back to the voting thing. I think there are a lot of voters who would like to vote this year who haven't been voting..
HST: Who'd be your first appointee to the Supreme Court?
BILL: I don't want to get into that. I have said that Mario Cuomo was the sort of person I thought would be a good judge, somebody with an expansive view of the Constitution and passionate devotion to the BIll of Right and a capacity to argue through to the end of things.
HST: Who on the current Supreme Court would you have appointed?
BILL: Harry Blackmun. Wonderful man.
BILL:... Keep in mind, it still takes more courage to vote for change than it does to stay where you are. And it is not true that hope is always a stronger emotion than fear. In fact, you could argue that usually the reverse is the case.
P.J.: Thomas Paine did.
P.J.: Thomas Paine argued that the reverse was usually the case.
BILL: I think we have an excellent chance to win. I believe if I do win, we would be well in positioned to deal with some of these thorny problems and to have the mandate to deal with them. But I think that we're going to have over ninety days of real, real struggle to do this.
HST: Caligula argued that too. Thomas Paine and Caligula.
P.J.: Yes. I don't know if we want to get Caligula in on this.
Instead of taking the highly detailed political end of Greider, the mixed point of view of O'Rourke, HST takes the highly personal view he is so famous for:
...diner called Doe's Eat Place (which I will hereafter and previously refer to as Doe's Cafe, because like cafe and I can't stand the cuteness of the other)...
I nodded meekly and sat down in a tin chair at what was either the Head or the Foot of the table, thinking that the Candidate would naturally sit at the Other End, far out of reach of me.
But no. The creepy bastard quickly sat down right next to me, about two feet away, and fixed me with a sleepy-looking stare that made me very uneasy. His eyes had narrowed to slits, and at first I thought he was dozing off.
HST does two things in this article that can be considered either different or plain annoying; constantly using Bubba (as in "It was ugly, Bubba.") and capitalizing nouns (see paragraphs above). Both these traits find their way into Better Than Sex; actually, while the interview is mentioned in BTS, the actual article HST wrote isn't, although parts of it appear in the middle (a rough draft perhaps?).
Why HST chose to do these two things, I don't know; for one, it is one of the newer original pieces written for Rolling Stone (as opposed to book excerpts) and did the same thing (but to a lesser extent) in "Fear and Loathing in Elko" (RS 622) and other articles from the early nineties. Bubba, of course, is a direct link to Bill Clinton's Southern roots, HST himself of course being from Louisville, Kentucky (interestingly enough, Don Johnson on Nash Bridges uses Bubba fairly frequently, as in "You got that right, Bubba." Johnson and Thompson brainstormed the original idea for the TV show).
HST also pins down why he, and most people will vote for Bill Clinton. Not because he was a draft dodger, not because he can tell you about radical banking solutions, but because of George Bush.
"Let's face it, Bubba. The main reason I'll vote for Clinton is George Bush, and it has been that way from the start....There is no way around it (for me) and no reason to apologize for it. George Bush is a dangerously failed President and half-bright top-level Nerd who has spent the last four years avoiding grocery stores and gas stations while he tried to keep tabs on the disastrous fallout from the orgy of greed and short selling that was the "Reagan Revolution."
He has dutifully presided over what he and his people have believed all along is the End of the American Century - the inevitable collapse of an impossible Democracy brought low by Niggers, Unions and Dope Fiends. He has no more real faith in the future of America than he does in the future of Iraq, and in his heart he is not eager to do FOUR MORE YEARS in the Big House and go down in history as another Herbert Hoover.
HST makes some important distinctions in these two passionate and powerful paragraphs that come in the middle of the second part of his article, entitled, "The Wisdom". The first is that George Bush is out of touch with the people (avoiding grocery stores and gas stations). The second is that living in the White House and presiding over America is a criminal activity - the Big House. Either Bush is imprisoned inside (and therefore out of touch by being isolated) or that he is the warden over a nation of criminals. This thought comes from F&L in Elko - that the US had become a "nation of jailers", the criminalization of human actions that went unnoticed before the age of political correctness. The third and most obvious one is that George Bush is an old man who would probably prefer to spend his days golfing while Clinton is not - Clinton genuinely cares. Even in the end, P.J. O'Rourke has to admit that Clinton is a likeable guy.
HST says several times that Clinton will win, but always shies away from endorsing him in print. But that's pretty much moot, Clinton was ahead of Bush, and in the end, his youth and sensitivity won him out.