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voyeurism, not explained
on August 10, 2010
[my book club's selection this month]
T.R. a drunk? Lincoln and Harding black? Hillary threw a lamp at Bill? (Good for her.)
Turns out none of these stories were true, along with most of the other rumors Collins reports in Scorpion Tongues. Mostly what all these rumors do is hurt the feelings of their victims. On the first page of the introduction Collins says, "...the American people turned out to be far more pragmatic about [Clinton's:] wildly improper behavior than almost anyone had expected." And on the last page she concludes, "The scorpion tongues of political gossip have the power to sting a target's heart, but they're unlikely to be fatal to anyone who looks capable of getting the job done."
Most of this stuff I didn't care about the first time around, whether I read about it in American history or lived through it in my lifetime (Clinton, McCain in 2000, Kerry in 2004). I still don't, and I was pretty bored by the subject matter. On page 163 Collins writes, "One of the reasons people gossip is to learn about life -- what their culture demands of them, how others have behaved in different circumstances, and what to expect from their own friends, family, and mates." I think that's crap. People gossip because the human race shares some unattractive characteristics, and one of these is voyeurism. We like to watch. (See reality television.)
Additionally, as Americans we like to build someone up and then tear them down again. We're never happier than when watching someone we have raised to the heights come crashing down. Sometimes I think this can be laid at the feet of the American dream--"If he falls from his spot in Valhalla, it makes room for me."
Two stories I did find of interest. One was of Hillary in 1991 sitting in on the planning session for Bill's run, and the rumors about Bill come up. "Suddenly, the man recalled, Hillary Clinton spoke up. "She said: 'You know, if we divorced right now, no one would ever raise those things. Divorce expunges it. And then if we remarried before the Inauguration, it would be one of the great love stories." If that story is true, that is a very telling illustration of the ruthlessness of Hillary Clinton's ambition. They had a daughter. I have a hard time believing that Hillary could be so ambitious as to inflict that kind of mental and emotional disruption on a child just to win an election.
The other interesting story is about John Kerry refusing to sign a document that would allow the media to find documentation that the same Swift Boaters who attacked him in the campaign had in fact commended him during the war. It turned out that signing Form 180 would have also revealed that Kerry got worse grades at Yale than fellow alum George W. Bush. "Was it possible,," Collins writes, "that Kerry had endured all that flack and destabilized his campaign out of embarrassment about his college grades?" Again, if true, who wants that guy as president? A president faces a lot harder truths than that every day in the Oval Office. Doesn't do the nation any good at all to ignore them. (See W. Bush White House.)
Collins is a terrific writer, I love her column and I loved her book, America's Women. Not this one. But for someone who loves gossip, which I think is probably almost everyone except weird me, you'll probably love it.