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The Truth, Mainly - 01/13/1997

No presidential wattles? Speak now or forever hold peace

You know that part of the inauguration ceremony where the Chief Justice says that if we object to the swearing-in we should speak now or forever hold our peace?

Well, when that part comes around next Monday, I’m going to speak. At least to the television set.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that if I object to William Jefferson Clinton being sworn in, I should have spoken before Inauguration Day. I should have spoken, you’re probably thinking, even before Election Day.

And you’d be right. All I can say is that my reflexes have grown alarmingly sluggish in the last three or four years.

I first began to notice last summer how badly flawed the Clinton Era has become. It was when he was asking us if we weren’t better off now than we’d been four years ago.

I thought about it a day or two and decided no, I wasn’t better off.

Not only have my reflexes grown sluggish during Clinton’s first term, my eyesight is blurrier, my pulled groin muscle makes me walk funny, my hemorrhoids are acting up, and I can’t remember people’s names.

I can’t remember names because my synapses don’t snap the way they did during the Reagan-Bush years. Now they just make little grunty noises and nod to each other, the way you might nod to someone you think you’re supposed to know but whose name you can’t remember.

It’s odd to me that for all the criticism Bill Clinton’s received, nobody else has noticed the biggest flaw of all: the President is 12 years younger than I am.

If that’s not an impeachable offense, it should be.

I didn’t mind it so much early in his first term because then Clinton was talking about changing the country’s health plan—from a bus ticket to Canada (the Reagan-Bush solution) to a little card that would give each of us free health care right here within our own borders. I could sense my impending deterioration even then and free health care without a bus ride seemed a Good Idea. But Clinton doesn’t talk about the little card now.

Still, that’s not the main reason I’m alienated from the President. The main reason is the Wattle Factor.

You know what wattles are. They’re those floppy folds of neck skin that geezers get at about the same time they get tenure in the AARP.

I’ve become a geezer in the last four years and I’ve developed dueling wattles, one on each side of my adam’s apple. I’ve grown rather fond of them. I like to think they give me a Charles Laughtonish sort of magisterial dignity.

On the other hand, my wife and my students, my children and my grandchildren find my wattles vastly comic.

The Truth, Mainly


“Wiggle your wattles, grandpa!” my grandchildren shriek, laughing so hard they nearly wet their pants.

“Watch his wattles wiggle,” my students whisper to one another, paying more attention than they used to.

I found wattles pretty amusing myself back before I had them and came to understand they signified magisterial dignity. Back then, I found wattles particularly amusing when they were hanging on Presidents.

Ronald Reagan had wonderful presidential wattles. I’d watch him get excited while he was confusing an especially inspiring movie scene with reality. He’d get so excited, his wattles would wiggle.

In my callow ignorance about wattles, I thought his looked like a turkey’s.

“Gobble, gobble,” I’d say to the television. “Gobble, gobble, gobble.”

“Don’t be unkind,” my wife would say. “Someday you too may have wattles that wiggle.”

And now that I have them and Bill Clinton doesn’t, I find it hard to take him seriously as our nation’s leader. So I’m going to speak out loud and clear to the television on Inauguration Day.

My wife tells me she doesn’t think there is a time in the swearing-in ceremony when the Chief Justice says protesters should speak now or forever hold their peace. She says I’m confusing it with the wedding ceremony. She says that was the part of our wedding she still gets misty-eyed over, but, she says, “a fat lot of good it did me.”

I try to think of a snappy response, but my synapses are taking their afternoon naps just now and all that comes to mind is that Bob Dole’s wattles are even more magisterially dignified than mine. But instead of Bob Dole, we’re going to be swearing in that smooth-necked rascal, Bill Clinton. I shake my head back and forth in dismay. My wattles wiggle.

“Gobble, gobble, you poor old booger,” my wife says. “Gobble, gobble, gobble.”


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.


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