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Clinton's Next Step

BY MICHAEL MANVILLE
01.24.2001 | SOCIETY

Recently a rather long-winded political analysis in my hometown paper, the Boston Globe, asserted that January 20 was less the beginning of the Bush presidency than it was the end of the Clinton Era. The article was stultifying but the point was valid. It might be an exaggeration to say that Clinton's departure and Bush's inauguration have received equal coverage in the media, but not by much. The attention being focused on a man ostensibly returning to private life has been remarkable. Farewell tour. Farewell TV address. Farewell radio broadcast. Impromptu meeting with reporters at bagel shop on his first morning as Citizen Clinton. He has become less a human being than a philosophical problem: without publicity, is there only nothingness?

For this reason there has been considerable speculation about what he'll do next. Only 54, he is clearly not going gently into the good night of elder statesmen. He'll do speaking appearances, of course, and write his memoirs, and most likely find seats waiting on a few corporate boards. Some have suggested positions for him at the United Nations. Others have trotted out the idea of the World Bank. He has to do something. He can't just sit in New York watching C-Span on the tube, sucking down beers and watching his successor commit phonetic homicide.

But I don't think any of the aforementioned options really suit him. Because my aspiration is to someday be a well-paid and bombastic political commentator, my concern is symmetry, and the need for straight lines to become full circles. I have a need, if you will, for flying metaphors and neatly balanced insight. If you've picked up a paper recently, you know what I'm talking about. It's an urge, unique to some our finest pundits, to completely distort reality by giving every point a precise, matching counterpoint. So we read that The Clinton Era was a time of prosperity found and innocence lost. A time when we saw our leaders up close even as they seemed somehow more distant. A time of moral poverty and personal wealth. Of the grievance of stained dresses and the stain of redressed grievances. And on and on ad nauseum. I sometimes wonder if our political analysts are collectively wrestling with an unresolved desire to be Charles Dickens, or if perhaps our finest journalism schools teach nothing but the parallel construction of sentences.

I must confess, however, that I too am seeing a lot of symmetry in the situation. Consider the circumstances. Bill Clinton is inspired into politics when as a young man he meets the womanizer John F. Kennedy, who is later killed. Clinton becomes President, womanizes, and is caught. During the long ordeal of his impeachment he is counseled by Jesse Jackson, who as a young man was inspired into politics when he worked for the womanizer Martin Luther King, who was also later killed. Clinton survives impeachment while Jackson himself womanizes. Jackson is caught womanizing just as the son of the man who Clinton defeated is preparing to take office, having won what Jackson says is an illegitimate election. Jackson can't protest the illegitimate election, however, because he's fathered an illegitimate child. So George H.W. Bush, deposed eight years ago by a southern governor, is now avenged by his firstborn, himself a southern governor and the former owner of a baseball team.

And there it is. The glaring imbalance. The extra, loose factor that's just dangling out there, screwing up everybody's attempts at parallel construction. The world won't be right until this problem is solved, and there's only way to solve it. This is Clinton's next step: He needs to purchase a baseball team.

Not just any baseball team, either. He needs one that suits his personality. Bush had the right club when he owned the Texas Rangers. The Rangers are good in a mediocre sort of way; they play in a weak division, dispatch regular-season opponents with a game that's more persuasive than overpowering, and then they're quietly dismissed from the playoffs. They're a right-place-at-the-right-time sort of team, and perennially revealed as such when the big boys roll into town. Thrown up against the Yankees, the Rangers are exposed as a club with little depth, not enough experience, and not as much talent as everyone might have hoped. Very W.

Does this mean Clinton should buy the Yankees? Not even close. The Yankees are a greatest-ever kind of team. No one argues about the Yankees, unless it's to argue about just how good they are. The idea of a negative legacy never slips into the discussion. The Yankees are an FDR, Abraham Lincoln, I-won-a-war-and-my-face-is-gonna-be-on-currency type of organization. Bill's presidency had a bit too much, well, ambiguity for him to be associated with the Bronx Bombers.

What Clinton needs is a team that is wildly talented, grounded in history, and yet always disappoints. A team with fans whose loyalty is surpassed only by the knowledge that they will be betrayed. He needs a club that will always undo itself, implode on the brink of triumph, and leave its followers to weep in frustration, knowing that they could have won it all had they only not defeated themselves. He needs infighting, dissent, thoroughly bizarre behavior and rampant chaos.

Fortunately, the Boston Red Sox are for sale.

Is there a more Bubba team out there? The Red Sox are generally regarded as a team with a hex on them: the Curse of the Bambino, incurred in 1918 when owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees and used the money fund an opera. Since then, no matter how close to victory they seem, the Red Sox always manage to snatch defeat from its jaws. The cosmos are aligned constantly against them; it is without doubt a vast conspiracy.

In terms of tradition, this is a team Clinton can appreciate. This is the organization that introduced Wade Boggs, after all. You remember Wade. During his time in Boston he was an All-Star third baseman who womanized, declared himself a sex addict, told the media he avoided a mugging when he "willed himself invisible," and got run over by his own wife. Of course, when the press showed up, he explained that she didn't really run him over. She was driving and he fell out of the car; she rolled over him before realizing what had happened. Very plausible. Happens all the time. It's all about what the meaning of is is.

The Red Sox are also the team that gave Mo Vaughn his start. Mo divided his time in Boston between community activism and strip clubs. In his later years with the Sox he fattened himself to Shamu proportions and accused the front office of spying on him with private investigators. Perversion and paranoia coupled with good eating and good intentions--hell, Vaughn could've been offered a cabinet post.

While we're at it, we should also mention Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, the pitcher who was arrested for having overdue pornographic movies at an East Boston video store. Clintonesque, no? Asked his opinion when a game at Cleveland was canceled on account of fog, Oil Can declared, "That's what they get for building a stadium so close to the ocean." Come to think of it, Oil Can might be more a W. kind of guy. Maybe there's a nice spot in Interior for him.

I could go on at length. Roger Clemens the bat-thrower? Sure, we brought him up. Carl Everett the head-butter? That's our guy. I don't want to dwell too much on individuals, though. What the President is purchasing here is a team. And--before anyone even thinks about it--we're not going to discuss1986. I don't write about that, as a rule. Let's just say the whole Monica thing pales in comparison.

What I want to discuss, what everyone wants to discuss, is legacy. Boston hasn't won a championship since 1918, yet the Red Sox charge the highest ticket prices in baseball. They consistently fail to meet expectations, to perform at the standard set by their own lofty rhetoric. But every seat sells out. They are tokenists. They torture us by looking right mostly, acting right mostly and even playing well most of the time. They never let us write them off entirely, never give us the comfort of knowing we have no chance at all. They force us instead to ride with them of a cliff each fall, and every spring they return, masters of reinvention. The bad times are forgotten and the promise of the coming months yawns untarnished before us. We choose to blame the Yankees for our troubles. We ignore the bad trades, stupid acquisitions, selfish behavior and off-field distractions that really did us in. No matter how dark the hours, Red Sox fans always come back, always believe, and tell themselves that this time there will be no collapse, this time the green fields and blue skies will last forever.

So come to Boston, Mr. President. Take over our baseball team. Bask again in promises unkept, potential wasted, and the adoration of a crowd whose love will always be unrequited.

About the Author
Michael Manville's writing has appeared in a number of online and print publications. He lives in Los Angeles.
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