Mixed feelings

Nostalgia replaced reality at the unveiling of the official portraits of the Clintons, but the truce didn't last long.

Topics: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bill Clinton, Stem cells, Ronald Reagan,

Mixed feelings

Time stood still. It was a late gray morning in Washington covered with a light mist as President Reagan’s funeral cortege rode slowly up Embassy Row to the National Cathedral. For a full week, the business of government ceased, the political campaign was suspended and the relentless momentum of negative stories undermining the Bush administration skidded to a halt. Tributes to Reagan filled the airwaves. Actual history was relegated to the back pew.

Nostalgia was always the aesthetic of Reaganism — morning again for small-town life, a dream of restoring an idealized past that never existed, which would magically reappear if only we believed. Reagan’s scenario of bucolic paradise was unlike his own small-town upbringing, in which his Irish Catholic father suffered from alcoholism, was the town liberal and Democrat who did not echo the boosterism of the Republican Protestant Midwest of the 1920s, and whose chronic unemployment was resolved only by a government job with the advent of the New Deal. Nor was the small town Reagan imagined like the one in “Kings Row,” Reagan’s greatest film, in which he is literally sliced apart in its vicious undercurrents of class and intolerance. Nor was it the Babylon of Hollywood, where the divorced Reagan lived most of his adult life.

With the withdrawal of reality, President Bush sought to enter the warm haze of Reagan’s evanescent and static world. Nostalgia for Reagan became Bush’s motif. His campaign Web site was turned entirely into a Reagan memorial. Bush presented himself as the political son Reagan never had. His war on terrorism and in Iraq became the equivalent of Reagan’s Cold War.

Ken Mehlman, the president’s campaign manager, told the Iowa Republican Party Convention June 12 that Reagan had become a hovering angel. “Every time an American soldier, sailor, airman or Marine risks his or her life to ensure our security and peace, Ronald Reagan will be there,” he said. Reagan, though he once told Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir that he had personally liberated concentration camps, in fact served during World War II at the Hal Roach Studios (known as “Fort Wacky”) in Culver City, Calif., making motivational movies such as “This Is the Army.” But long ago Reagan’s career had come to exemplify the epitaph of the classic John Ford western, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”: “When the legend becomes the fact, print the legend.”

Then time started again. The campaign that had found relief nestled in Reagan’s shadow found itself in the shadow of another president. On Monday, former President Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton returned to the White House for the unveiling of their official portraits. They, too, had been at the Reagan funeral in the cathedral, and afterward had lunch with Britain’s Tony and Cherie Blair, the old friends meeting out of the limelight, discussing the future.

I joined a boisterous reunion of more than 200 Clinton Cabinet members (a Cabinet that looked like America), advisors, staffers, friends and Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul of Miramax. Hardly any of us had set foot in the White House since Clinton departed. We felt completely at home, yet out of place. We had worked here every day for years and were now infidels in the temple.

The ceremony was like a Christmas truce in the trenches during World War I. Bush, who had previously denigrated his predecessor, now graciously paid tribute, listing attributes that inevitably created comparison with himself, but different from Reagan: “a deep and far-ranging knowledge of public policy, a great compassion for people in need, and the forward-looking spirit that Americans like in a president.”

Once the regal, life-size portraits were unveiled, Clinton spoke of his mixed feelings about his induction into the presidential portrait gallery. He recalled once meeting a little boy who had said, “Are you really president? But you’re not dead yet.” Obliquely but pointedly, Clinton remarked that “politics is noble work” and that we need to “return to vigorous debate about who’s right and wrong, not who’s good and bad.”

As we made our way in the receiving line from the East Room, I noticed that the Georgia O’Keeffe painting that Hillary had hung, the first and only 20th century work of modern art in the White House, was gone. In its place was a nostalgic scene of the Old West.

President Bush did not stay to receive the guests. He left the task of shaking hands and posing for photographs with the Clintons and their crowd to his wife, Laura. When the line ended, the former president and first lady met on the North Portico with dozens of members of the permanent White House staff, who clustered around them. He was getting ready for interviews about his memoir to be published next week, bottled up and eager for new campaigns. She went back to Capitol Hill to prepare, as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, for more hearings on torture at Abu Ghraib.

While the portrait unveiling was taking place, Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, was announcing that Nancy Reagan’s plea that the administration reverse its policy inhibiting research on stem cell research (which might lead to a cure for the Alzheimer’s disease that afflicted President Reagan) had been rejected. “The policy,” he said, “remains the same.”

Nostalgia is swept away; the clock ticks; the truce is over.

Sidney Blumenthal, a former assistant and senior advisor to President Clinton, writes a column for Salon and the Guardian of London. His new book is titled "How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime." He is a senior fellow at the New York University Center on Law and Security.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>