FLN: What else about the Southern character should be mentioned...
Well, the Southern character is voluble and outrageous and lascivious and he's
essentially violent. You know that four times as many crimes of violence are
committed in the rural South as in the North. And when a Southerner's insulted
his testosterone rises twice as high as a Yankee's does when he's insulted.
And as Southerner's they said, "What would you call justification for killing
somebody?" And he said, "In defending my home, anybody comes in my home, I'll
kill him." At twice as many said that. Or an insult. How do you feel about
being insulted? "Well, watch out, now. Now this is Mother's Day. If you talk
to a 55 year old Southerner sitting on a chair in front of the feed bin and say
something rude about his mother, he'll climb all over you like a thunder
That's not peculiar to white Southerners.
I'm not saying it's not peculiar to them. I'm saying it's a characteristic of
Except that this is a way that Bill Clinton is a great departure from that
card. You don't get that tough guy, I'll tear you apart, boy don't come around
here anymore in Bill Clinton. That's one way that he is not stereotypically
But he had to negotiate his way up in that kind of society with that kind of a
tribal male ethic.
That's part of aspiring upward toward the values of the old South tradition of
the upper class and leaving behind the cotton farm sort of roots.
John Shelton Reede says, and quotes a couple of other scholars as saying that
the herding instinct is responsible for a lot of this. These people that came
from the fringes of Britain were herdsmen, and when you've got a bunch of sheep
or goats or cows or something, if anybody takes them away from you, you're an
instant pauper. There everything went all at once. And herdsmen have to be
fierce and they have to have reputations for courage and violence. Well, they
may be many other things that contribute to it, living outdoors nine months of
the year, hunting and fishing and climbing trees and all the rest of it.
Southerners live very close to nature and they are emotional, responsive and
tend to be fierce and protective. After all we had the Indians snatching up our
wives and children, back a hundred years ago still.
But immemorially, I think it's been a culture and a society that has always
belonged more to the earth than to machines. And Clinton is an aberration on
that quality. He is not indisposed to systems, policy think and it's like
that Southern character, that Southern nature, that Southern past is undergoing
a certain permutation in that species of Southerner that Clinton is.
He's a robo-Bubba. I think that Bill Clinton is a transitional figure from the
Old South, from the old confederacy to the new South. The techno-cyber
Southerner. The Robo-Bubba.
Maybe there's been a certain psychic impoverishment in that improvement or that
May not even be an improvement.
It's the same thing that's going on in Atlanta, in Greenville, and in
It's a phenomena of the South having been mightily laboring since at least the
`50's, the early `60's to somehow transmogrify itself into an emulation, and
imitation of Pasadena. Or Cleveland or the rest of the country. And there
has always been this almost touching lust in the South for progress, for
industry. The land of cane in the South is consisted of a horizon of
Nature is the enemy as well as the friend. The South has been agricultural,
and has been bountiful but it's also been hard. And I think our nature being so
full of snakes and bugs and bears and kudzu, I think the upshot is the only
thing that will stop kudzu is a Wal Mart. Or a shopping center. And in part
this denial of nature... I think the war is between nature and the opposite of
nature, which is paving it over and denying it. And leaving our roots and
leaving the land and forgetting how food is grown.
But again, the South wants so desperately to prove that it's a-okay. That it's
really an all right place to live. That it's as good as the rest of the
country. It has a terrible inferiority complex. You know you may not say
that, you may not feel that, I don't feel inferior, but I'm talking about as a
collective region of the country it's always trying to prove itself, and
disprove and disabuse people of the old myths. It's always working at that.
Until '38, the South didn't get back the real wealth it lost during the Civil
War. Until 1938.
I think the South definitely has a sense, and again it's rooted in having been
burnt down. And having our silverware stolen. And being invaded and
humiliated and this is the only part of the country that has experienced that
and it gives us a chip on the shoulder, a second classness, something to
overcome. Not that, it also was a great advantage. When people condescend to
you it's a great advantage as Sam Irvine demonstrated in the Watergate
hearings. And I think Clinton has learned to use that. But I think
definitely, I saw this in New York when Clinton was moving toward the
nomination in the New York primary. I was in North Carolina at one point,
considering all the candidates, and I liked Clinton but I was thinking of all
the others, and I was thinking the downside, until I went to New York and I
felt that irrational hostility from the press in New York City towards Clinton
because he was a Southerner. And Southerners are the only people who it's okay
to still kick around. There is no cultural diversity.
FL: What is the attitude toward Clinton?
Well, I think that Clinton has an awareness of this. One of the things that I
think is a great gift of his is he has a consciousness of these phenomena. He
understands how this works, and makes it work for him, and plays on it, and
also is a product of that, and had to overcome being the Governor of
Let's accept the fact that he must have persuaded somebody because he got the
vote. I mean that wasn't' rescinded the next day. There's a certain amount of
But that wouldn't have alleviated him of that lifetime's condition of being an
I think there's a tremendous amount of pride in the South too behind all of
this. We were poor, we were whipped, we were thrashed, everything else. But
the South is a very resilient, remarkable, ornery, tough state. And we're
going to be heard from and continue to be heard from.
There's something about Clinton's confidence that is so strong and that to come
out of Hope and Hot Springs, Arkansas and to imagine yourself the President of
the United States, there's something rather naïve about that. And I think
that it's born out of provincial context, this belief that you can do something
so extraordinary and people around you might think, "Well how could you believe
something like that when we're only in Arkansas." And I think that probably
the same could be said about Jefferson Davis, the notion that he could run the
Confederate Army and win the war. And this kind of naïve...
But he's the world's most ferociously bright student. Diligent student.
The positive thing is that it takes that kind of energy and optimism coming out
of provincial roots to really achieve that. Because somebody cynical and
sophisticated and is quite worldly in his background is not going to make that
Also I think that Bill Clinton embodies this Southern characteristic as
Faulkner put it, "the capacity to endure and to prevail." Which is part of,
the South absorbed blows, absorbed blows and is now prevailing economically.
Now that we have portrayed him as this real Southerner, let's get to this real
hard fact that the South despises Bill Clinton. You look at any poll. He's not
going to carry the South. He didn't before. He doesn't do well in the South.
Why is that? He is both a child of the South and he's this weird hybrid thing
too. He has betrayed what Southern men are about. Military service,
protecting home and family. He has that charm, that Southern charm, that up
North they like to call slick.
A little Rhett Butler kind of charm.
Yes, absolutely. Rakish, roguish, kind of charm about him.
Maybe more an Elmer Gantry.
Well, we're talking about our respective heroes.
But he is also part Northerner after all. Educated at Georgetown, went to
Yale, all the way overseas to the Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford. And standing
in Red Square as a student. That's not somebody that someone in Moscow,
Arkansas can relate to. So you see, he's not whole Southerner. He's true
Southerner but he's not whole, 100% Southerner. He's been diluted somewhere
along the line.
That's why the rest of the country likes him so much.
Well, that's why the rest of the country can tolerate him. They say, "Oh after
all, if he had just stopped at the University of Arkansas I don't know what
might have happened. But after all, he went to Yale. After all, he went to
Georgetown. He must have something going for him." That's the thing that makes
him okay to the rest of the country, and freaks out the South about him cause
he's got this outsider stuff in him.
Clinton is a Southerner in form but the content has changed. In the structure
of his personality and the form, in his style, he's Southern still, deeply
Southern. But the content has changed and it's unfamiliar to Southerners.
FL: What's the emotional connection to that?
Well, one of the ways he's still Southern it seems to me is that he's like a
Southern Baptist preacher. And the church is an environment that sanctions
emotion in men. And in the preacher you have someone who is a model of
empathy, and persuasion, and coaxing, and reaching out a hand persuading you to
come forward to the point of view of the minister, which is the point of view
of Christ, that you must yield.
But what I see that you're talking about, which is very much a part of our
heritage as Baptists, is the winning souls. What I've experienced with Bill, I
always see in the President's eyes, in that engaging, in that hugging, in that
embracing that goes on. And the being there with you and for you and feeling
your pain, and whatever else, I always notice that there's a moment when he
recognizes that he has you. That he has won you and then moves on. And it's
like a checking you off the list.
A quality that both the Clintons have, is this ability to both be sincere and
at the same time step outside themselves and see how it's going out there.
There are times I can swear I can see them thinking, "This is playing great.
They are loving this. They're eating it up." Now that doesn't mean that they
aren't earnest in what they're doing, but they are also very well aware of what
it's looking like out there.
I keep saying that this is a transitional figure as they move from the
preeminent question, "What must I do to be saved?" to in this age, "How am I
doing?" is what you see within... It is an awareness, this may be the
television generation, our generation, but it is a definite kind of... I think
that Bill and Hillary are kind of the bacilli of this age and of our
generation, the boomer generation. They are kind of carriers of the dis-ease
of our time. And it's that point in this generation where narcissism
intersects with obsessive compulsion. And kind of is expressed there. Now I
see this in myself. I see it in all of my friends.
But that's a permutation or two beyond what it was traditionally like to be a
Southerner and a Southern character.
That's what I mean. It's something that's in transition now.
But the way he reaches forward with enthusiasm and interest in the other person
is authentic and convincing. And he may move in quickly but that's his job to
move on quickly. But you know...At the moment he passionately believes. He's
really interested. He's been interested in students, he makes more friends with
students. His great friend was the porter at Oxford. He's had, you know, he
plays that sax and sings "Harmony", hey that's pretty engaging.
Bob Dole in my view, is the manual typewriter. I learned to type on the manual
typewriter. I loved it. I found it reliable. I knew, I learned how to operate
it well. Where the keys were, how to change the ribbons, returning the
carriage and all of that. Manual typewriters represent a great time in
American life and everything. And they still work. A manual typewriter will
still get the job done. Bill Clinton is the laptop. Does that mean I hate the
manual typewriter because I prefer a laptop now? No. It's just that the laptop
is more evolved and it reaches into the next century more. But I still love
the manual typewriter. And what I think a lot of people are going to have to
make a choice between is, do you stick with that manual typewriter which nobody
has anything against, or do you go to the laptop which is moving into the next
But they really have, the two of them, Clinton and Dole, different styles of
feeling. The one is much more open and exuberant. Dole, perhaps, is a little
more freeze dried, harsh and starchy.
I think that Bill Clinton is the perfect Southerner in a way at this time.
Here he is, he can cry, he can feel, he can let you know that he feels. He can
get weepy. He can get huggy and lovey and all that. That's part of his
generation. In fact that was encouraged. That if you were a liberated man, if
you were a real man, you freed yourself of all those pretenses of not having
any pain or not having any agony or having any sorrow. And you let that go.
Bob Dole came along at a time like my father, where a real man didn't cry. He
took it on the chin and kept going. So you're not supposed to not only feel
the other person's pain, you don't even feel your own. You don't even admit to
Well, you know we've been talking sort of loosely about the Southerners having
something like a Mediterranean strain. They're voluble and they love to talk.
And they never have any money and they didn't have a lot of big theater or
drama or anything, an occasional church tent show came down. Southerners
depend heavily on concentration, depend heavily on conversation and amuse
themselves that way, distinguish themselves that way, and mesmerize their
friends and relatives and it's a high art. Southerners literally pick up like
magpies little bits of color and light and whimsy and nuance during the day and
they try to weave them together into some sort of decent piece of pageantry at
night. And they talk on the front porch cause it's too hot inside. No air
conditioning. I mean you'd have to go down to the Star Light Theater to get
air-conditioning, so Southerners naturally, the weather drives them out, they
live intimately with the weather, the weather's all around them. When they go
out at night and look up at the stars, look at the moon, and observe
everything, insects. Nothings too small for a Southerner to concentrate
But conversation is sort of the art form that they're most convenient with,
conversant with. It's so accessible to them. And they can't understand these
taciturn people from these great windy plains where you have to lean at about
45 degrees in order to get anywhere. You have to fight to survive. Southerners
throw themselves down in a meadow or sink into a chair on the front porch and
start rocking. Talk to their neighbors and friends, passers by, and everybody
else. And then they used to pick up by comedy circuits up North that they say,
just a regular, routine, run of the mind, Southern conversation sustained us.
As Frady says here, I rarely agree with anything he says, when he says rhetoric
is the only thing that kept us alive after the crushing defeat in the Civil
War. Southern rhetoric has been an estimable force. Everybody, in national
life too, as well as in Southern life. We just manage to get by by talking.
But you had to believe in that rhetoric and believe it was real, not just a
Not just a ceremony. And listening. And the other side of this is listening.
You got to have some people who will talk and listen by turn.
Well, you have to listen because you may miss a good story. I mean you learn
And you're going to tell that story yourself over at the seed mill.
Language is, has been like a telephone call. Language has been for the
Southerner like breathing, like oxygen.
That's right. Breathe in and breathe out.
Let me anchor this to Clinton first of all. But the cause of this desperate
importance being placed in language, and language itself becoming the reality
in place of an otherwise perhaps insupportable, unbearable reality, one tends
to believe in it furiously. And when you say it, you're believing it. It's
real. And you may be saying something a day and a half later that it does not
contradict as a radical variance with observations and meditations that you
were talking about the day before. But in that moment you completely occupy
and inhabit that rhetoric, that oratory.
Except that I think that what you believe in at the moment, necessarily, is the
power of what you are saying, not necessarily what you're saying. That's why
the Southern tall tale is such a great tradition. You know it's a lie.
Let me suggest a little Damascus Road enlightenment on that. It's not good
rhetoric if you don't believe it.
I absolutely don't believe that. I think that you can make a compelling,
bewitching presentation of something you believe in not the least bit. And
what is so seductive is to watch the power that you have over people that are
falling for it.
I was going to come back to this earlier when you were talking about the way
that you perceive the Clintons being able to assess the effect they're having.
But to me that doesn't seem new. That seems to be the evangelist. The
evangelist doesn't stay the minister to you after he's won your soul. The
evangelist has done his work when he's saved you. When you have seen the light
he has to move on. There's other souls to save. So I don't see that as some
new perversion. It's the evangelist's way. It's the zeal that moves you
onward. And there is seduction in that. The invitation to the unsaved, to
come forward, to yield, to surrender.
Somebody ought to have difficulty making that transfer, though. That Clinton
is in fact embarked on the kind of political revivalism, political evangelism
to the republic.
What I'm talking about is, the forms get internalized in you in your
upbringing. What you see modeled for you, what you soak up, what becomes part
of who you are. Not in a conscious way, in the structure of your personality,
in your response to the world. And when you grow up a Southern Baptist there
is this pressure to evangelize. If you take seriously what you hear in church
as a child, and you understand that the burden of other people's souls is on
your shoulder and that it is up to you to go out and find the words to go out
and win those souls, then you're going to grow up, if you throw away the
content, you still have that form if you are a serious child who embraced it.
And so you may find secular ways to be an evangelist, but you internalize
But Clinton did not begin as a Southern Baptist. He lately came to that
religiousness, didn't he, when he was teenager?
No, he was always a Southern Baptist.
No what I was going to say is, if you are a good talker you listen to
everybody's response to what you saying. It doesn't mean at all that you're
phony. It's your art, it's your portrait, it's your music. It's an instant
creation with the tools that you have available to you and if you can chat to
people around you, and if you do believe in what you are saying in a
metaphorical sense, at least.
Clinton's speech about Martin Luther King is the perfect Baptist sermon because
it's about how do you get to the Promised Land. How do you get to heaven.
And in the speech the Promised Land is not heaven after life, but it's the land
of peace and justice here on earth that Martin Luther King dreamed of. But how
do you get there? You don't get there by good works. You don't get there
incrementally by accomplishments. You get there by a revolution of the spirit,
a conversion of the heart. There are government can do, there are things you
can do, but that's not going to save you. What's going to save you is looking
within and making sure your spirit is right. That will save you. That will get
you to the Promised Land. And the structure of the speech is just like a
Baptist sermon. It starts with the good news, here's what you're doing well,
you're sort of on the right track. But here's the bad news. The bad news is,
at the heart of things is all wrong and unless that's made right and you can't
get the Promised Land until you've had that revolution of spirit. There's this
invitation at the end of the sermon to come forward, to have this invitation of
spirit. And there's a lot of moves in that speech that are classic Baptist
FL:< The whole bell curve of the crescendo.
The pitch and then the quieting down so that you can coax the person to yield
to it. But also there's the moment in the speech where he says, "What if Martin
Luther King were here today? What if Martin Luther King could look around and
see the terrible things the culture has come to, what we've done?" That's a
real classic Baptist move. Usually, what if Jesus were here today? What if
Jesus were walking beside you? How would he feel about what he saw?
But you know the difference though between the Southern Baptist or the Southern
Protestant Calvinist sensibility, and Clinton's message and gospel is that
Clinton does assume that deliverance, and regeneration, and redemption can come
through government action and policy, and that the internal revolution or
recreation of the heart, or recreation of one's very individual nature, which
is profoundly, I think, in the Baptist religious ethic, is not enough. It
also takes institutions and agencies to effect this regeneration.
But that also comes from the dictate of Christian duty. That you have a
charitable spirit, or a compassionate spirit and you go out and help and serve
other people as well. It's not just an act to get you into heaven. It's
something that you are required to do to prove your own Christianity. And if
you are in government then you use whatever tools you have to enact that
caring. If you're in government you use government to do it.
I think that the Baptist background prepared him for this age that we live in,
the post-Christian age where the secular task he has before him.....We live in
an age where people cannot feel. They have a hard time. The loud music is an
attempt to feel something. People piercing their bodies, and pierce as an
attempt to effect themselves, to feel something.
But I see that there is a basic difficulty that we have as we approach the
21st century in we are cut off from ourselves and cannot feel
generally and Bob Dole's generation expresses that where that was a virtue, to
be cut off. But I think the Clintons' generation, our generation, is even more,
we are just more skillful at disguising it. And we are learning how to give an
impression of a human being. No that is even more profoundly sinister and
scary. How do you, let's do an impression. Now we are going to be sincere,
now we are going to be emotional. And we are watching ourselves and monitoring
ourselves and we have learned this from television and it's that essentially
passive position. But it's something that our souls have been drained from us,
and now this is something that I see in my generation and in Bill and Hillary
And that reflects what's happening in the South?
Yeah. I do think it reflects what's happening in the South. As we are...
The South is losing some of it's identity.
The South is losing some of it's identity and the homogenization, the
urbanization, all that.
But... I think there was an unawareness, basically, in Bob Dole's generation or
that my father's generation --that there was a cut-offness of feeling, but that
was seen as virtuous. And there was nothing wrong with that. What's
interesting to me and scary about our generation is that we have gotten
conscious that does something screwy. It makes a Richard Nixon. Being that
cut-off from feeling. And yet, our response is to try and give an image of
feeling, but with this kind of obsessive, narcissistic, self-absorption,
navel-gazing, therapeutic America.
In my comic strip I have a character who is First Family Therapist. And is
Secretary of Feelings. I think of that with the Clintons. It's not that
there's true emotion, or feeling, or passion, but it is more sophisticated ways
and means of keeping emotion at a distance and taming it, and controlling it.
And it's really about control. But we are just much more sophisticated about
When you see Clinton playing a saxophone and you see a person wrapped in a web
of magic, it's very, very familiar. It's not just narcissistic. It's melodic
and it connects you with the universe, you're communicating with the outside
world. His musical interest and his musical talents are very appealing to me
and do seem to be strikingly Southern to me too. But think of the self
absorption you see in a saxophone player, particularly a saxophone player. And
this is not a wicked or an unholy or a separating sort of thing. It's separate
in that it's an artistic sort of creation. It's not separate in that it's
bringing everybody else into the aura of this thing which has it's, there's a
triparty thing working there.
There's a healthy narcissism, as well as a neurotic narcissism. And that's
true of everything creative. You know the thing that strikes me about race, my
memory of Clinton's acceptance of the nomination in Madison Square Garden.
What I thought was so subtle and so indicative and expressive of his comfort
with race is he didn't make a big deal of it. All he had to do was to mention
Fanny Lou Hamer and it conveyed to people who were sophisticated about the
struggle of race in America, they knew where he was coming from. He didn't
have to kind of give an image, it is second nature. I think that's one of the
advantages he has as a Southerner. Races do mix in the South, races interact.
There is a comfort with it. It is not an abstraction.
And Bill Clinton is of, I think, the generation, the post civil rights,
affirmative action generation where it is for him a natural thing that you
don't have to kind of blast trumpets around it and announce it. It simply is.
That's what struck me about his acceptance speech for the nomination. He
signaled more in simply mentioning Fanny Lou Hamer about where he was coming
from on race, and everyone knew. And every black person in the Garden
understood the depth, simply by how he dealt with it.
You know the black association that all of us have had is simply a back beat to
everything that happens in our lives. This is a very profound thing and it
could be an irritating thing. But this is a profound thing. Nobody's said
what a debt of gratitude we should have...
The gratitude we should have for the fact that is has been played out, and the
difference is played out on the surface visibly, and clearly, not buried.
But you know in many ways the white Southerner remains the creation of the
black Southerner. That he hold in violence and abasement, and style for
feeling. Over their relishments in life and over their long past, it's as if
they were locked in a common experience together. That however much compounded
of, sometimes of, violence and meanness, in the course of that experience they
really became two halves of a single people.
And much more like each other than they tended to be like either whites or
blacks in the rest of the country. They became a single people. It was to a
degree an acknowledged sort of cultural common law marriage between whites and
blacks in the South, but no less. Made up of savagery sometimes. A lot of
times out of a discomfort on the part of whites, realizing this intimate
kinship that they had with blacks. But as Johnny Ford, mayor of Tuskegee,
black mayor of Tuskegee, Alabama, says, "Sure there was a lot of meanness. But
at least it was personal."
When you see a white person from the South meet a black person from the South
in a cocktail party in New York City, there's an instant sympathy, an empathy
and they look at everybody around, as dismayed and outraged and "Boy this is
going to a [unintelligible], how bizarre." The truth of the manner is they
have much more in common than they have with that bunch of Yankees surrounding
them at that cocktail party.
But let's also be very honest about this too. That once again the Southern
courtesy, and Southern kindness', and Southern politeness is a cover for a lot
of dirt that's going on underneath. Just like Southern religion. Churchgoing
is a cover for all kinds of things that are going on back home that are
certainly aren't very Christian. So is the whole race relationship. Yes,
there's the old saying that in the South we don't care how close you live to us
as long as you don't get too much power. In the North, we don't care how much
power you have as long as you don't live too close to us. Well, I think that
really in the South there is this neighborhood of black and white, no matter
how we try to have the tracks and whatever. We're all living in the same place
and we're all living pretty much the same way. And so we exaggerate whatever
differences we can find to try and make that line as bold as possible. And
therefore it becomes a very mean line sometimes.
Now, Bill Clinton grew up in Hope, Arkansas. Started early in Hope, Arkansas.
He likes to talk about how his grandfather told him, "You know you don't treat
black people badly. You don't treat them any differently." I think he's
probably romanticized his grandfather. His grandfather was a creature of old
South Arkansas, where the Klan had a foothold. He probably did not use the "N"
word, he probably was not rude to people, but he probably did not embrace black
people in the way we think about true integration nowadays. Bill Clinton had
the sensuality to live life through his pores. He soaked it in. He believed
what he saw with his own two eyes, what he heard with his own two ears, what he
could feel with his own two hands, and being an intelligent man, made sense of
some of those old things that they said about black people and saw, no, this is
the way it really is. And because he's intelligent and modern and times were
changing, is a disciple, the new world, that doesn't have these hang-ups about
black people. His grandfather gave him a good start in a grandfather that
didn't teach him to hate `em. But his grandfather did not teach him to love
`em. I'm convinced of that.
There never would have been a Carter, much less a Clinton, if there hadn't been
a Martin Luther King. And he transformed the South, redeemed the South so it
became the sort of region out of which a national figure could assert itself.
King made Clinton possible. Made Carter possible. Made Clinton possible.
I'll say this. Bill Clinton is certainly comfortable in the company of we black
people in a way that I think Jimmy Carter came near, but never nearly as close.
Bill Clinton is like an honorary brother in a way. He's got some true soul
about him. And furthermore he has also put his money, so to speak, where his
mouth is. Early on his appointments of black people in positions of power that
theretofore had been all white and many times all male, was astonishing at the
level, it was past a token level. You knew that he had to be going after the
quality of the person because the numbers were so great after a while. I think
black people, especially black Southerners, have had to live, I was talking
about eating hens feet, we've had to learn how to make food out of scraps,
we've had to learn how to make clothing out of remnants, and housing out of mud
and whatever like that, so there's not a lot of pretense here. The luxury of
being pretentious is not ours, has not been ours historically. We're pretty
earthy, down to earth, the way it really is, salt of the earth people. And
Bill Clinton, who's natural tendency is to relax and to let go and to be
himself, can't find anyplace that makes him feel more at home than among black
And you know if that bond is there between Clinton and black Americans, that's
a circumstance of no slight importance in a country where the fundamental
schism remains racial alienation, racial estrangement.
What everybody's been able to ascertain is that Bill Clinton is
honestly, earnestly, naturally, for real, comfortable among black people. And
I thing that is because of, again, the Southern condition whereby so many of us
live together and live alike, no matter how hard we try to pretend otherwise.
And part of it is, there he was growing up in Hope, Arkansas. His grandfather,
he likes to tell this story, taught him not to nurture any prejudices, not to
use foul words against black people, not to mistreat black people. He likes to
I think romanticize his grandfather as kind of the hero who brought him out of
any inchoate racism he may have had. And that his own mother, by the way,
admits to having some of. But I think that it was just, Bill Clinton grew up
in a transitional time, the world was beginning to change, we were coming
around, the civil rights movement. He was a young man. He got out there in it.
He remembered what granddaddy told him about not to hate. But I don't believe
granddaddy told him to love and embrace necessarily, I think he learned that
from just seeing with his own eyes and hearing with his own ears what the real
story was and coming to his logic about it. And now he's the kind of guy, I
believe, who is again, largely because of his Southern roots, is inclined to
let loose, and let down and drop the pretenses and black, the black world is
home to that, is home to that. I mean we can be [unintelligible] black people
with all kinds of degrees and jobs and whatever, but when we come back home,
we've got to drop that stuff and be down because there's not going to be, it's
not a doily society. It's, you know, go fix your own plate and come sit down
at the table. And we sit and eat, elbows and all. It's just the niceties that
have been there, the pleasantries are luxuries that you have.
Black people's history is the history of struggle and survival. And when
you're trying to survive you don't say, "Oh my God, we don't have nice art to
put on the walls." You worry about getting walls. I mean the niceties of art
are the garnishment in life. It's the icing on the cake. You got to get the
cake first. And so I think Bill Clinton feels real comfortable there because
he doesn't have to put on any pretenses at this point. Now is that to say
there are no uppity black people, no sophisticated white people? Not by any
means. But our culture, our subculture has been one that says don't play games
with me, don't bring that BS in here. I know who you are. And you can be who
you are, and you better be who you are. And Bill Clinton knows that and he's
at home. And it's also very forgiving because we also know about, we've had to
come face up with our own sins and our own weaknesses and everything. So we're
not surprised that some guy may have fooled around on his wife, and we're not
surprised that maybe he drinks a little bit on the side and things like that.
That doesn't surprise us so much. We know what real life and the real world
is. We know what the ideal is, we know what we want to be. We know what the
preacher tells us to be, and we know what we told everybody we are. But we
also know what the real world is and how we really are. And when Bill Clinton
turns out to be like that, why, he's one of us. And so he's accepted there,
and he knows that and he feels it instinctively. He lets go and when he lets
go, all the contrivances are gone. And his soul starts talking and it wins.
He give a great speech. He does convert people. He could pass the collection
plate around because his soul is talking. Not his head, not his handlers, not
the polls, not a focus group, his soul's talking again. He's home.It took one
more thing. College is enough. Competition in the modern world is enough.
Let's take this big thing out of there. You don't know what that takes off of
you. To not have to deal with that is amazing. The work you can do and the
progress you can make when you're not trying to fight that crap is amazing.