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jus' what kind of good ole boy is president billy?

April 04, 1993|Florence King | Florence King is a regular columnist for National Review and the author of eight books, including "Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady" and "With Charity Toward None: A Fond Look at Misanthropy." She lives in Fredericksburg, Va.

Southerners are the only Anglo-Saxon Protestants in America who have to worry about "the ones who give us a bad name."

In the old days, our worries centered on 350-pound sheriffs named Vonnie or Beverly who split heads and infinitives on camera. Next, we were saddled with Jimmy Carter, the "nukier" scientist and authority on diarrhea who was mistaken for a redcap.

Now, Bill Clinton, the divine afflatus of co-dependency, is President of the United States 'R' Us. I'm happy to report that there is very little about him that is Southern. In fact, I can detect only two regional characteristics. First, food.

As he eats his way into William Howard Taft's custom-made bathtub, giving rise to the fear that he may drop dead in the prime of nice, alarmed pundits will trot out all sorts of Freudian theories and Rabelaisian allusions to explain why he's digging his grave with his teeth. The truth, however, is very simple.

To a Southern Baptist, eating is the only sensual pleasure that is not a sin. Gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins but they're Catholic so they don't count. The low-church groaning board has driven out the high-church groaning bed, and every good ole boy knows the path to righteousness.

Then there's the South's other oral tradition: Talking. As Clinton continues losing his voice, going hoarse at closer and closer intervals until it's completely and permanently gone and we really need the manic sign-language lady that Democrats always include on the dais, remember that good ole boys are America's original wonks. They always have an encyclopedic knowledge of something or other--guns, cars, Civil War cavalry strategy--and hold forth on it until there isn't an unglazed eye in the house.

If Southern men talk a lot, it's because they have spent 300 years explaining the South to the rest of the country. First they had to explain slavery, then segregation, then their objections to the civil rights movement. And now backpedaling former firebrands like George Wallace are explaining what it means to have "mellowed." Given three centuries of men talking the hind legs off a mule, the end result was bound to be Bill Clinton.

OTHER THAN WHAT HE DOES WITH HIS MOUTH, OUR NEW AGE TRIBUNE COMES ACROSS AS COMPLETELYun-Southern. For one thing, he believes in "getting in touch with your feelings"--middle-aged spreadese for the hippie credo of "let it all hang out" that shaped his youth. But Bubba don't hug men. He greets his friends by punching them in the heart in a perfect simulacrum of CPR. To Clinton's oft-repeated campaign priority, "I think it's important to touch as many of the American people as we can," Bubba replies, "Sheesh."

There is something oddly rootless about the whole Clinton family; their from is on a par with Oakland's there. Mama Virginia Kelley ought to look like Belle Watling, could look like Belle Watling, and on good days almost looks like Belle Watling, but in the last analysis, she looks like Everymadam--especially the ones from Terre Haute who crop up in the novels of James Jones.

Brother Roger is a dead cert to make Billy Carter seem in retrospect to have been as polished as Lord Chesterfield, but Roger's final disgrace, whatever it is, will happen in a nightclub, not a gas station: he is a creature of rooms without clocks. The heart of a true Southern ne'er-do-well beats under the bib of his overalls, but Roger's beats under a cover charge.

Hillary, of course, is from Chicago, which may explain what really drives her--not yuppie careerism, but the knowledge that she's a Yankee wife. Knowing that people are saying, "Why couldn't he have married one of our girls?" has been known to do terrible things to Northern women, and it looks as if it's happened again.

Time magazine's Margaret Carlson effused that when The Billary were in law school together, Clinton "couldn't keep his mind--or his eyes--from wandering over to the smart girl in the flannel shirt and thick glasses." He is reported to have told his mother, "I won't marry a beauty queen," which is another way of saying, "I won't marry a Southern girl."

Why?

He may have felt threatened by the sexual incorrectness it would have entailed. Romantic legend has endowed the Southern woman with so many tempting but conflicting charms that she's a human candy store. The man who presses his nose against this window finds himself wanting a hot Melanie: a woman so good in bed that she will have an orgasm if he just looks at her, yet who is also sweet and submissive, with a yen to be dominated. His common sense tells him that women who are good in bed tend not to be sweet and submissive, and that women who are sweet and submissive tend not to be good in bed, but a Southern woman can make a man want both.

Marrying a Yankee, particularly one in flannel shirts and thick glasses, cuts this Gordian knot and allows Clinton to avoid the rigors of Southern masculinity.

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