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On Obscenities and Opportunities

“I did something for the worst possible reason,” Bill Clinton told CBS’s Dan Rather on “60 Minutes” last month. “Just because I could. I think that’s just about the most morally indefensible reason anybody could have for doing anything.”

Just because I could. Actually, I confess (not that it’s any of my business) that I’m not all that sure that the ex-president’s encounters with a perfectly willing fellatrix are in fact morally indefensible. Maybe it’s because I’m a child of the Sixties, but it seems to me that while those trysts avec Monica are of some understandable concern to the man’s family, and of interest to some politically motivated salivating voyeurs, the BJs, after all, posed very little threat to world peace or domestic tranquility. Indeed the former president might, for all I know, rationally defend himself by saying that since he had a willing partner, an unsatisfying marriage, spare time and the need to relax from time to time, he had valid reasons to do what opportunity and office space allowed him. He might argue that sexual frustration and deprivation, if allowed to mount, might have adversely affected his presidential behavior and judgment, and his yin-yang balance, and that therefore his occasional office unloadings were entirely in the national and international interest. (This line of argument of course will not hold sway among those who really believe that some people will face hellfire, after they die, because of how and where, in this life, they’ve deployed their genitals.)

But to put Clinton’s “just doing something” into perspective: his successor apparently stays zipped in the Oval Office. But just because he could, Bush attacked a poor, weak, sanction-bled nation, knowing its army would quickly crumble, and that no other nation would confront the juggernaut he unleashed in Iraq. His neo-con advisers all along, as well as Condi Rice, were saying “Why not USE our power—that those wimpy chief executives from Nixon to Clinton refused to really, effectively use—use it for GOOD?” Why NOT achieve far greater ecstasy by driving our national manhood well beyond the Oval Office (and the offered services of a pixie-faced intern) into the deeply resistant bowels of the Middle East, ripping and humiliating in the process, while telling yourself the bleeding and torn really LIKE it? And because (given the oligopolistic structure of the mass media, and your intimate ties to it, and mainstream journalism’s eagerness to help you out) you are able to get public opinion to cheer you on?

“We ought to be beating our chests every day,” exclaimed Gen. Jay Garner, L. Paul Bremmer III’s predecessor as procurator of occupied Iraq last April. “We ought to look in a mirror and get proud and stick out our chests and suck in our bellies and say: ‘Damn, we’re Americans!'”

The narcissist apeman’s point? Just because we can do it!

Recall how Boromir, in the Lord of the Rings, proposed that the good folks use, rather than destroy, the Ring of Power. After all, the gilt band forged in the “Land of Mordor, where the shadows lie” lay there on the table, in the Council of Elrond, eminently useable. Just like the vast arsenal of U.S. power was there for Dubya Bush in the helpfully confusing months after 9-11. Why not take over Iraq? asked the amoral Paul Wolfowitz, joined by his equally vile boss, “Defense” Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Because we can! Reason enough! And the geopolitical advantages of controlling all that oil, and enhancing the security of expanding Israel…in what more holy causes to use the Ring, and to smite with that Ring?

But the Ring of course, is intrinsically evil, and cannot be used for good. It drives who wears it mad. It brings to the bearer an expression of impish delight, while causing him to babble incoherently. It deprives him of reason and morality.

Bill Clinton did what he did because he could, but when caught, he paid. His successor did what 9-11 allowed him to do: commit real, serious crimes such as have been prosecuted before at Nuremberg and Tokyo and elsewhere. He has not yet paid for what he did, when he could do it.

 

* * * *

During the Watergate Affair, evangelist Billy Graham was informed of Richard Nixon’s habitual use of profanity. He pronounced himself shocked. (This, more than the Christmas bombings of North Vietnam, or the invasion of Cambodia, offended the man of the cloth.) I wonder how the aging cleric, and his son and successor, Franklin Graham—chomping at the bit to penetrate occupied Iraq and convert the people from the “very evil and wicked” Islamic faith to the Truth of fundamentalist Christianity—react to recent reports about the foul mouths of the Bush-Cheney team.

According to the Washington Post, in a brief exchange on the Senate floor June 22 (the day the Senate passed a Defense of Decency Act), Vice President, moral role model and former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney told the mild-mannered Senator Patrick Leahy to “fuck himself” when Leahy made a remark about Halliburton’s grabbing up contracts in Iraq (just because it could). This was the first time the Post actually published the F-word. The report followed upon another in Capital Hill Blue that Cheney’s boss (the most conspicuously religious of recent presidents) often indulges in “obscene tantrums against the media” and tongue-lashes “those he perceives as disloyal, calling them ‘fucking assholes’ in front of other staff, berating one cabinet official in front of others and labeling anyone who disagrees with him ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘anti-American.'”

That Bush and Cheney should be speaking this way in such contexts suggests that they are under great stress. It’s highly injudicious of a president to call White House staff “assholes” in front of others who might tell the press, or for a vice president to urge the senior senator from Vermont to autocopulate. Cheney’s lack of judgment’s fine, of course. It would be wonderfully ironic if reports about the obscene language begin to trouble the Christian fundamentalist right which the Bushites so cherish and cultivate, and which comprises their social base. One Beth Miller, commenting online for Christ Unlimited Ministries, thinks such nasty speech is defiling to the speaker. She cites Matthew 15:11 (in the King James Version, naturally): “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” The question of what goeth into the mouth (so central to the Clinton-Lewinsky Affair), is in the current administration’s case less relevant than that which cometh out the leaders’ lips—and gets repeated in the press. Preaching purity, the leaders epitomize vulgarity. They’re less filthy in their speech than in their vicious actions, but should the righteously religious get riled up at all this foul language, and start questioning the virtue of these Crisco-lubed and anointed fucked up ones—one can only say Hallelujah.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu

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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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