Residents of Skaneateles, New York, complained to visiting reporters about the Clintons’ decision to make themselves relatively scarce on their recent vacation. Consider the plight of Kathleen Palmieri, 47, a cardiovascular laboratory consultant and a registered Republican. She told the New York Times that she had wasted her “billable hours” vainly “stalking” the First Family, to no avail.
Skaneatelesites should lighten up a bit. What with all the fundraising, Senate strategizing, house-hunting, golfing and joking about the hapless Gore campaign, the entire Clinton family was probably forced to spend their vacation’s final days helping the President plow through his ambitious summer reading list.
Recall the White House Press Office’s announcement that the President intended to read ten challenging books in only twelve days. Think of the humiliation should the President return to Washington unable to answer predictable questions about the daring absence of anything resembling dramatic tension in Wallace Stegner’s moving portrait of lifelong friendship, Crossing to Safety. Lucky for the President Sam Donaldson resigned the White House beat. How embarrassing it would have been when, over the din of twirling copter blades, Clinton remained silent in the face of Donaldson screeching, “Mr. President! Mr. President! Did Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian fully capture the psychological turmoil of its protagonist?”
Call me cynical, but I wonder if the President really intended to read all ten books his interlocutors listed and the press dutifully reported. After all, I was on a relaxing, luxurious cruise through the misty fjords of Alaska’s Inside Passage with the scintillating companionship of a couple hundred Nation readers and I barely had time to finish rereading Proust. I did, however, find a moment between the brilliant panels and breathtaking scenery to do my part to help the President out. For my contribution, I chose Waves of Rancor: Tuning in the Radical Right, by Robert Hilliard and Michael Keith (M.E. Sharpe). Repeated calls to the White House press office failed to confirm Clinton’s completion of the book, much less address my request for the opportunity to test the President on it. What follows is some of what the President would have learned, if he really read the book.
Although Clinton may have been disappointed to find no mention of George Will, Bill Kristol or Bob Novak, what Hilliard and Keith deliver instead are some alarming and underreported truths regarding threats to the safety and security of our citizens. The President should take heed. The media insist on treating far-right media provocateurs like G. Gordon Liddy (“Head shots, head shots…kill the son of a bitches”) Rush Limbaugh (“The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies”) and Bob Grant (“I’d like to get every environmentalist up against a wall and shoot ’em”) as the far end of the spectrum of respectable conservative discourse. This is a perilous error. Like the tip of an Alaskan iceberg above the frozen fjords, Limbaugh & Co. are merely the most visible portion of a collection of misfits and malcontents, any number of whom may help inspire the next dream of glory of a wannabe Timothy McVeigh.