Thank you. Thank you very much

Posted: Aug 18, 2000 12:00 AM
A television director spoke of the entrance of President Clinton to the stage. "That required very intricate work. You could see there were four alleyways, maybe even five, and he had to turn the corner to go down each one. The camera had to precede him, step by step, alleyway by alleyway, a long, long walk until he debouched onto the stage."

But that's good theater, never mind that it's expensive -- Barbra's guests paid $10 million dollars the day before to share an hour with Bill. The Entrance can be a very big deal. Hitler liked it when a German division was to the right of him, a division to the left of him, and he marched between them in silent illumination toward the stage. When Johnny Carson retired, the cameras were prepared to take him from his arrival in his Porsche, through the studio hall, into makeup, to the conference with the producer, and finally to the "Heeeere's Johnny!" moment. And of course at the State of the Union addresses, the presidents walk down the aisle of the House shaking hands to right and to left, everyone standing and applauding.

Good stuff, but peanut-gallery compared to the long, lonely walk through narrow passageway after passageway, a travel shared by the television audience with the 10,000 worshipers. What were the first words he spoke? "Thank you, thank you, thank you." What were the last words Hillary had spoken, moments before? "Thank you thank you thank you."

What ensued was, in the words of the headline, a speech "Extolling Eight Years of Change in America." What was not extolled, or even touched upon, was the most striking change of the decade, which was crystallizing public indifference to presidential conduct. This is a very important cultural development, bipartisan in impact. The president did not need to refer, in his valedictory, to the momentous proceedings of the impeachment years, which he got away with. And two weeks earlier, in Philadelphia, the Republicans did not mention what they did or tried to do to register constitutional disapproval of perjury and extra-constitutional big-lying ("I never had sexual relations with that woman").

There are always changes, with the passage of eight years, and Mr. Clinton asked the viewers to take his word for it that the reason for the prosperity that took hold in 1993 was his presence at the helm. He did tip his hat to Mr. Greenspan, and well he might have, inasmuch as it was Greenspan's tightening of the credit reins in 1992 that precipitated the heavy drain to Clinton from President Bush. He moved then, as any Hollywood director would have approved, to the single event that gave theatrical measure to Vice President Gore -- who cast the deciding vote on the 1993 tax bill, to which Mr. Clinton proceeded to refer as one might to the Magna Carta. The font of economic progress, racial reconciliation, educational advance and world peace. He shouldn't have thanked us; we should thank him.

He has many gifts, the outgoing president. One of them is his quite natural capacity to smile just a little as he talks. This faculty leaves the dew of geniality over the whole of what he does and says. Then there is the slight crack in the voice. For some years we all worried that it was a laryngitical lesion of some sort, that probably it would get worse unless he held his tongue. But it was manifest that no such reversal of primal energy was possible. Before long, the little rasp became ingratiating, and now one would not be surprised if it transpired that junior politicians are practicing both the smile and the slightly strained voice.

And indispensable to the public impression is the upswept hair. How can anybody, any (START ITAL)) thing, be decrepit when the whole top of the head rises in celebration of perpetual youth and energy? The posture permits him to transcend the groin-and-eyeball idiom of politics he might engage in in different company. Joe Eszterhas, in his book "American Rhapsody," gives us his version of Hillary on the subject of the editors of The Wall Street Journal, "those motherf---ing, racist, Neanderthal, troglodyte, right-wing creeps."

But put that in the blender a few times and you get, arms outstretched, a bid to all America to believe the Clintons, and to believe in them. ... A fine performance.