This is not an editorial about Clinton. Rather, this is an editorial about editorials about Clinton. It has been my observation that the proliferation of commentary on the White House sex scandal has grown from being annoyingly repetitive to blatantly absurd. Not only is the nation captivated by the actual events, we are obsessed with moralizing and speculating about the matter. This discussion is not about whether or not I think Mr. Clinton is the embodiment of moral degeneracy or the victim of a political witchhunt. My opinion is irrelevant. I would simply like to express my exasperation that so many people feel compelled to share theirs.
Remember factorials? I’m referring to that insufferable mathematical concept that is inflicted upon every grade school student. The problems are always something along the lines of “If you have two shirts, two pairs of pants and 36 different pairs of socks, how many outfits would you have?’ My own intuition and basic standards of hygiene dictate that, obviously, you would have two different outfits.
And, of course, my teacher would inform me that I was wrong. The correct answer was something like 309, and I was doomed, yet again, to suffer through these inexorable factorials.
My common sense has been thwarted once again. This time by Clinton scandal commentary. It seems to me that there are two positions to choose from. Either he should resign or he should stick it out. Other factors complicate the matter, for instance, you could condemn or condone his actions independent of whether you think he should or should not resign. That would allow for four different stances on the situation.
This number, however, comes nowhere close to the deluge of nuanced views that have flooded every media outlet and casual conversation for the past few months.
In this country, with two political parties, 535 members of Congress, hundreds of daily newspapers, two George Bushes,. 24 hours of daily news broadcasting, two sexes, a mega-million dollar media industry and 270 million scandal-loving citizens, the spectrum of commentary has proved almost infinite. Damn those factorials!
This is not to say that the possible impeachment of our president is a trivial concern. Rather, it is a matter of paramount importance. However, there is only so much reflection that needs to be done. Not every perspective is relevant. Regardless, each new development brings more of the same, regurgitated assessments masquerading as fresh and insightful revelations. And nowhere is this opinion overdose more apparent than in the Op/Ed pages of the daily newspaper.
As tired as I am of the incessant opinion mongering found in these Op/Ed pieces, I have to admit the phenomenon itself is intriguing. A majority of the commentary is, as I’ve noted, quite uniform. It is so uniform that the Clinton-essay has practically become a genre, no matter the author’s position is pro or con. For instance, he or she is required to make references to a particular clothing retailer, to a trendy tobacco product and to an oddly shaped room in the White House. Bad puns are an imperative. For good measure, the writer should also make a derogatory comment about Jerry Springer. After all, he is the Anti-Christ, is he not?
Who are the people barraging us with their opinions? A particular segment of the population is required to share their views. This group includes all political pundits, newspaper columnists, law professors, religious leaders and former government officials ( must be from the Executive branch or Arkansas).
Fortunately, a diverse segment of the community also provides perspective, if less frequently.
These commentators may not adhere to the guidelines previously presented. Instead, they share their own, idiosyncratic outlook on the situation. For instance, we may be enlightened with an inside look of how the Lewinsky matter has affected Tommy Hilfiger’s advertising campaign, how difficult it is to explain oral sex to a seven-year-old, or where the Starr Report fits into the study of world literature. Soon physicists will be arguing that Clinton’s wavering statements validate the Superstring Theory of the Universe. Despite the variety of forms these reflections may take, they still all adhere to one rule. Each writer must include thinly veiled contempt for or support for the President.
Why is it that every media outlet is inundated with essays and analysis? Why does everyone (you and me included) feel the need to add his or her own (inconsequential) two cents? I refuse to believe that the gravity of the issue can fully explain this phenomenon. Nor do I think that factors of adolescent titillation or political partnership can be held completely responsible. I would suggest that American society has moved beyond being a culture of excess. Too much is no longer enough. Now we obssess with cultural trends ad nauseam. Whether it is a celebrity homicide, a quirky sitcom situated in NYC, wrecked ocean-liner nostalgia or the White House sex scandal, American society latches to particular trends and can’t let go until we all become collectively queasy.
Could it be that the modern world, globalized such as it is, demands cultural bonds that are overarching enough to link an ever-expanding, information-driven “community?”
People used to talk about the weather. I imagine that a new, less localized subject is required to sustain nationwide “small talk.” Is this endless rankling about the President a reflection of our increasingly attenuated society’s need to maintain universal (albeit superficial) reference points?
Of all the Clinton scandal opinions pieces I’ve read, the best by far was by Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam. Making reference to Hegel and Karl Marx, he makes a comparison between the events of Nixon’s resignation and our current presidential predicament. Beam cites Marx’s famous quote: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
I would suggest that, not only has history indeed repeated itself as farce, now popular culture demands that the farce be repeated again and again and again.