Ten years after his famous affair with another young woman was exposed, I've decided to go public with my own love affair with Bill Clinton. It's a tale of love betrayed, of impotence, of passion—a romance worthy of Elvis himself.
It started one night in 1992. My family and I were en route from Ohio to Madison, Wisconsin, where we were relocating. With our move, I hadn't paid much attention to the Democratic primary. None of the candidates had made my heart go pitter patter, though Paul Tsongas had made me feel mildly flirtatious. As we drove into Madison, hitting the Beltway just as dark set in, we tuned into the Democratic convention on the radio, just in time to hear Mario Cuomo. His eloquence moved me—what a way with words this man has, I thought! I felt the first stirrings of emotion, a passion I'd not felt since Jimmy Carter inflamed my adolescent heart in 1976.
But Mario Cuomo? How could a guy with a name like Mario Cuomo ever win an election? My brain beat back my heart on that round, though the name Mario still makes me a little weak in the knees.
A couple nights later I watched Bill Clinton accept the nomination of his party, to thunderous applause. I was seduced, by his platform, his eloquence, his youth and vigor. As the balloons were released into the air of the convention center, my previously reined-in passion soared as well. This man might be it! Head and heart were in agreement, at last. My love, so often squandered, was complete.
Bill and his cute running mate Al began an excellent bus adventure a few days later, through the Midwest via the Mississippi River. When I heard they were coming to LaCrosse, I packed my family in our Toyota and with a lascivious heart, set off across the hills of Wisconsin. There, under some high school bleachers, we joined the cheering throng, and then, caught up in the moment, we followed that big white bus to the next stop.
When I got home, I called the campaign office to volunteer—a political virgin, I'd never actually worked on a campaign before. I arrived at headquarters, surprised to see it filled with older, similarly smitten women, one of whom handed me a stack of flyers and directions to the lit drop.
Days melted into weeks, as I canvassed, phonebanked, and lit dropped, my young children forgotten in my mad lust for political passion. Poll after poll showed Bill Clinton beating George H. W. Bush, and this only fanned my enthusiasm for this new man in my life. So handsome, young, articulate! So electable!
There were signs, ominous signs, that the man of my dreams might not be all he seemed, but, caught up in the wild yearnings of my new Democratic love, I ignored them.
And then, the climax: election night brought paroxysms of joy, as I watched my man—oh, men, now there are two of them!—Al Gore and Bill Clinton, both virile and strong, right there on the stage, holding hands high in the air to punctuate the victory—my love for him, vindicated at last as the whole country joined in my elation.
Ah, satisfaction was so, so sweet.
Again, I ignored the niggling naysayers—he'd won without a mandate, they said, and I figured they were jealous. The whole country shared my love, didn't they? It wasn't just the economy, stupid—this was the real thing, a long term stimulus to my bleeding liberal heart. Together, we'd take care of the children, feed the homeless, right the wrongs of the Reagan administration. Our gift registry was long and filled with goodies I'd only dreamed of during our mad, passionate election.
All during the transition, I eagerly anticipated the triumphant return of the Democrats, led by my man Bill, to Washington. And then came the inauguration--I still remember how I felt, my passion soaring once again as he uttered his oath. I swooned: "A spring reborn in the world's oldest democracy." Yes, yes, I was so ready for a "new season of American renewal."
But suddenly, with the stroke of a pen, I was scorned, left yearning for the promised bliss. Yes, dear readers, Bill Clinton, embodiment of my hopes and dreams, could not sustain even one tiny dream. After confidently lifting his pen to sign a bill proclaiming that gays and lesbians could openly serve in the military, he faltered. Desperate at first to go through with the act, he finally conceded defeat at the hands of the Republicans, including the very virile Colin Powell, and some conservative Democrats determined to stymie this young upstart from Arkansas.
Watching the coverage, I cried. My love, and all its hopes for a new "season of renewal", I now knew was doomed. They—the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy—were too strong. And Bill—or "Elvis" as some were now calling him—despite his throatily whispered campaign promises, could not, would not, stand up to them.
The months dragged on, and soon my love was nothing but a sad remnant of its former glory. Season of renewal turned into Contract with America; Newt Gingrich, who made no one's heart beat faster, caused the once bold Bill Clinton to triangulate and obfuscate. Thousands died in Africa when Clinton dodged Republican bullets. Thousands more died in Bosnia while Clinton held his finger to the wind.
Fools rushed in, and the Lincoln Bedroom, which suddenly seemed to be for rent, turned into Heartbreak Hotel. Bill Clinton had been nothing but a hound dog all along.
Welfare reform was the last straw, snuffing the embers of my dying passion. By 1996, I couldn't even bring myself to vote for the man who'd once made my heart soar. I sadly fixed a Nader bumper sticker to my car, wishing desperately I could find a politician who could fill me with passion again.
Over the years, I tried to defend Bill from attacks from the right, but my heart just wasn't in it. Not even the impeachment fiasco could muster up those old flames. My heart had, mercifully, become detached.
Now, as I watch the man my former love has become, bitter and broken now on the campaign trail, I am ashamed to admit I once loved him, once invested all my liberal hopes and dreams in this shell of a man, who can no longer remember where he stood on the most important issue of my lifetime, the invasion of Iraq. He lashes out like a wounded tiger on the trail, not the Comeback Kid but the Clueless Hack.
I hate that it's come to this. But I've got a new love in my life, one whose background and voting record is much more constant, giving me more hope than the man from Hope ever did.
It's over, Bill. I was done with you, even before you pondered the meaning of "is." Your autobiography sits unread on my shelf, next to my copy of Wordsworth. For unlike Nature, you betrayed the heart that loved you.