Jewish World Review Feb. 1, 2001/ 9 Shevat, 5761
Live like the snopses, leave like the snopses
THE CLINTON reign of error ends in disgust. Liberal commentators who looked at conservatives as
priggish and prudish during the impeachment finally share the overwhelming disgust with the rest of
These critics-come-lately had closed their eyes at the soiling of the Oval Office by behavior
unbecoming a commander-in-chief and a gentleman. When the staff he left behind trashed the West
Wing with lewd graffiti on the walls, pornographic images dumped into computer printers and file
cabinets glued shut, everyone agreed a line had been crossed. The looting of the presidential Boeing
747, dispatched to take the Clintons to New York as a courtesy of the new president -- china,
silverware, blankets, pillow cases, towels, soaps, toothpaste tubes with or without the presidential
seal were stripped away -- insult was added to injury.
"This is an outrage for taxpayers,'' says Sean Rushton, media director for Citizens Against
Government Waste. "We should not be using general revenue to pay for vandalism.'' The
"unprecedented'' trashing of the White House "surpasses even the normal excesses of the Clinton
administration. What a gross ending.''
Live like the Snopses, leave like the Snopses.
Disgust, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and so it was for eight years. Partisanship became
repugnance became acceptance. How did this happen? William Ian Miller, author of "The
Anatomy of Disgust,'' sees a coarsening of public discourse and behavior in "the general loosening
of norms surrounding once taboo topics of bodily functions and sexuality.''
He's right, but what's fascinating is the way that the loosening of norms in categories we usually
consider private also slackens the standards for public behavior. The Clintons got a pass on their
deportment until their last week in the White House, when everyone could at last see how their
indulgent private behavior infected their public personae.
The $200,000 worth of loot they carried away from the White House was only greater in scale than
the stuff their visitors and staff took off the presidential airplane. Hillary, the silver-packin' mama,
followed the letter of the law, if not the spirit of the Senate ethics restrictions.
Disgust monitors behavior and keeps men and women in line by defining limits and boundaries, taste
and manners with secular demarcations for virtue and vice. What disgusts us defines us, social critic
Joseph Epstein observes. Disgust humanizes responses on a moral hierarchy of what's acceptable
and what's not. It's an emotion that finally hits us with a visceral blow to the solar plexus.
Disgust, like tears and glee, is uniquely human, distinguishing us from animals. Animals don't
experience disgust and we forgive our pets their disgusting behavior. You can't blame a pig for
waddling in the mud (although pigs can be more refined than you might imagine).
When Buddy, Bill Clinton's chocolate Labrador, knocked down his master, we found Buddy
endearing. But the incident became a metaphor for Bill Clinton's fall from grace, comic relief from
the disgust we felt when he hogged the public microphone on his departure day, thumbed his nose at
the public with his pardons, particularly of Marc Rich, who was indicted not only for fraud, but who
had renounced his American citizenship and traded with Iran even as it held and tortured the
The slippery slope is a particularly dangerous place in the long run. So it is with political character.
When Bill Clinton testified falsely, he showed his contempt for law, contempt that inexorably led to
Many of us were appalled at his scandalous treatment of women, but everybody was disgusted by the pardons. Well, nearly everybody. Disgust has no degree, no wiggle room
for excuses. Disgust does not distinguish between who you are and what you do, between public
and private approval ratings. While he was president, Bill Clinton's friends separated the good Bill
Clinton from the bad Bill Clinton, but when he finally took his leave there was only one Bill Clinton.
With his departure, everyone could finally see him for who he
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12/13/00: Hillary in the lion's den
12/08/00: Return of the 'second sex' on campus
12/04/00: Politics as entertainment today
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07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
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07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
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06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
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05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
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04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
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04/13/00: A villain larger than life
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03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
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03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
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02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
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01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
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12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
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08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
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©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate