I put it to Clinton that launching a presidential candidacy was not unlike writing a novel: You had to create yourself as a sympathetic hero, in language that would touch the reader's heart and mind. Clinton readily agreed that he had so far failed to emerge as a rounded and credible character in the unfolding narrative of the election; failed to find an idiom in which to engage the imagination of the country in its present angry mood; and failed to rid himself of his fatal public image as a stereotypical Southern charmer. At least, he agreed, and then, by piling qualification on qualification, he disagreed.
FOR THE RECORD - Los Angeles Times Sunday October 11, 1992 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 8 Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Editor's note: Since some readers criticized the length of Raban's article, we shudder to note that five paragraphs dealing with Clinton's family background were inadvertently omitted from the story.
As the Pittsburgh suburbs peeled away from the motorcade, Clinton talked about his difficulties. The "serial" nature of the primary system had made it hard for him to develop as a character; in each new state he had been forced to start again from scratch. "When you get to Philadelphia and walk down the streets, and talk with the mayor on the strip, people in that Pennsylvania crowd are asking the same questions that the people in New Jersey did, because the campaign has just come to them. They don't know, by and large, what the candidates stand for, where we are; they've just heard about . . . things . . . mostly, probably, personal things . . . and if you try to focus on that, from state to state, it's no longer news for the national press because it was news in New Hampshire, so it can't possibly be news in Pennsylvania. That makes it more difficult to write the script, because the way you display constancy is, in part, to say the same things and keep working through.
"It's proved to be more difficult than I thought it would be: If people don't get to know you slowly over time, the least thing can elevate you, but it can also be very damaging to you, because people don't have a larger context in which to measure today's statement against yesterday's 'revelation.' "
The atmosphere in the speeding car was that of a pleasant tutorial. Clinton's tone and phrasing were detached; he finished his epic sentences with well-defined full stops, and he had a knack, usually confined to elderly Oxbridge dons, for being able to house whole clauses between audible brackets.
"Reagan not only glorified the market (which, I think, the Democrats should embrace, but say how the government could better shape), he denigrated government to the extent that . . . ."
Clinton's rococo grammar seemed on a par with his weakness for candy: When it came to fancy punctuation, he just couldn't help himself. I thought, people don't talk like this, except in the later novels of Henry James. His voice was hoarse, his larynx still damaged from the talking-marathon of the New York primary, and he was dog-tired, but his grammatical engine purred away under full power as his voice grew croakier.
Sometimes he touched an unexpected note of wry, self-deprecating irony.
"One of the problems that I face, as someone who peddles hope, is the presumption against one's credibility and integrity."
\o7 Someone who peddles hope? \f7 He wasn't confessing cynicism so much as modestly doing himself down, after the English fashion.
"And now I think the trick is for me to be able to go beneath the specific components of my plan, to show people what animates it, and what animates me, what drives me."
\o7 The trick? \f7 This was Professor Clinton, taking the strategic long view of the candidate whose adventures were chronicled in the newspapers on his knee.
The motorcade was already inside the airport perimeter fence.
"Look," Clinton said. "You had the failure of Johnson's presidency, the deaths of Kennedy and King, the resignation of Agnew, the impeachment of Nixon, the collapse of the economy, the frustration of Iran in the last Carter year--and then you had Reagan and Bush tell us, 'Well, what did you expect? Government is intrinsically bad.' Now there is this alienation from Congress, and all of that. So one of the big problems that I have, in breaking through with language, and trying to offer what I perceive to be legitimate win-win solutions instead of win-lose solutions--you know, the kind of drawing of the old dichotomies, and maybe getting on a different side of them (which is what some people in our party want)--is that I'm just inconsistent with the experience of the American people, who are used to political failure, and to being told that there's something intrinsically bad about politics and government anyway."
We were parked beside the campaign plane. A television crew was waiting on the Tarmac. Clinton tightened the rigging of his smile.
"It's a big tide to swim against," he said, his voice worn to a crackle of dry leaves in his throat.