New York tabloids came up right on schedule last Monday with the Clinton
scandal of the week. An enterprising reporter asked the governor if
he'd ever violated drug laws in other countries and he said well, yes,
since it was put in that way, he had. When he was a student at Oxford
back in the late sixties, he "experimented with marijuana a time or
two." But he didn't like it, and he hasn't done it since. And, he
said, he didn't inhale.
Always before when asked if he'd done drugs, Gov. Clinton had said
he's "never violated the laws of my country." Apparently some snitch
from his Oxford days suggested the reporter ask whether he'd ever
violated the drug laws of any other country, and the jig was up. He
had, but he didn't like it. And he hadn't inhaled.
It wasn't a pretty thing to read about. So unpretty, in fact, it
made banner headlines in the New York tabloids.
You know what I wish? I wish that just once when a politicianor
any other public figure who came of age during the sixtiesgets asked
if he ever experimented with marijuana, he'd say this:
"Did the Pope ever experiment with communion wine? Of course I
experimented with marijuana. Damn near everybody did. It messed up our
heads real good and made everything very funny. It upset our parents
and drove Richard Nixon nuts. It was fun. So I did it. Didn't you?"
You know what else I wish? I wish that in the presidential
campaign of 1932, some enterprising NY tabloid reporter had asked FDR if
he'd ever violated the 18th Admendment prohibiting booze, the controlled
substance of choice back then. Just imagine.
Enterprising Reporter: "Governor Roosevelt! Governor Roosevelt!
Have you ever experimented with booze in violation of the 18th
Other Reporters [under their breaths, 95 percent of which smell
strongly of illegal Canadian imports]: "Is this guy drunk? Get him out
of here before he gives the whole press corps a bad name."
FDR [looking patrician]: "It was no experiment, my good man. I
knew exactly what the outcome would be. It would mess up my head real
good and make everything very funny. It would drive Prohibitionists
nuts. But I knew even then that with the exception of fear itself, we
had nothing to fear but enterprising reporters who pander to puritan
titillation. Take this one out and shoot him."
Other Reporters: "What a guy. He's got my vote."
Even if a reporter had asked the question, can anyone imagine FDR
saying that yes, once or twice he'd gargled with illegal Canadian
imports but he hadn't liked the taste and he didn't swallow? Or can
anyone imagine a tabloid headline "FDR tried Cutty Sark in 1921!" Or
even more preposterous, can anyone imagine the electorate caring enough
to deprive itself of FDR's services?
The Truth, Mainly
Sure, I know. Some of us still remember FDR, some of us still
admire FDR's public work, and we can assure you that Bill Clinton is no
FDR. But it doesn't follow that he'd be a bad president just because we
don't approve now of his private acts then.
Ed Quillen of the Denver Post gave readers an instructive example
last month of the trouble than can result when we judge contemporary
public figures by their past private morality. Quillen asked us to
consider one 20th century leader who was a picture of private decorum.
A decorated war veteran, he opposed smoking and anything beyond moderate
drinking. He was a one-woman man who liked little children, a
vegetarian who couldn't stand cruelty to animals.
"That is the private character of Adolf Hitler," Quillen wrote.
"By contemporary standards of character, Hitler was positively angelic
in comparison to Winston Churchill, a hard drinker and youthful opium
user who was never without a cigar
But the enterprising reporter knows that kind of historical
perspective doesn't fit a tabloid headline or a 30-second sound bite.
He wants to know whether the candidate ever hummed "Lucy in the Sky with
Diamonds"an almost certain indication of past LSD experimentation.
And while he's at it, the really enterprising reporter may ask the
biggest question of all: Did the candidate ever smoke the infamous
euphoria-producing hallucinogenic banana peels we all heard so much
about in the sixties?
If the candidate were FDR, reincarnated as Bill Clinton, he might
say no, he'd done lots of bad stuff, but he'd never experimented with
banana peels. But, he might say with the Arkansas subvariety of a
patrician smile, Danny Quayle used to be pretty heavy into banana
peels. Inhaled them too. Messed up his head real good.
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.