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My Life
By Bill Clinton
Knopf
HC, 1008 pg. US$35/C$50
ISBN: 0-3754-1457-6

President Tom Sawyer

By Michael Moriarty
web posted November 8, 2004

My LifeAmerican literary critics of My Life, former President William Clinton's autobiography, complained about the memoir's lack of depth. I don't know why they'd expect profundity from our very own Tom Sawyer. Mark Twain himself would have fainted from shock to know his Tom would have the patience to write a thank-you note from Little Rock to Aunt Polly in Hope, let alone keep a diary of his visit to Moscow, and that's just a puddle out of the sea of words he pores out and onto almost one thousand pages. We know Tom sure can talk 'n tell stories but a yarn as long as a Tom Clancy novel? Gee whillikers, that's one helluva fence to paint.

We know that as a governor and a president he must have had appointment secretaries so a lot of the memories are just a down-home documentary of his whirlwind country jigs around the globe. By gosh, he sure didn't let the grass grow under his Air Force One. He even settles that kerfuffle 'bout that haircut on a runway. I mean, compared to all that faldeeral 'bout Whitewater, what's a 200 dollar a day "do?"

All the things he can remember?! The minutest details! Gosh, he even remembers that some of his legislation ran to over a thousand pages. Tells us, o' course, it takes that long to "simplify" things. That's our Tom, alright.

He even jokes about how hard it is to shut 'im up. His Becky, Hillary, pretended to no longer even be married to 'im after his what-seemed-like a day-long nomination speech at the Democratic Convention in '88 -- shucks, only lasted 32 minutes "of disaster," as he says -- oh, Tom sure can poke fun at himself. He can even admit when he gets testy in the morning and "gripes too much," but, o' course, he's got his very own Huck Finn, James Carville, to calm 'im down. They both are, as Tom says, "on the same wavelength."

There are eighteen pages of entries about ole Huck Finn. Why Gerry Adams has about the same amount of autobiography-time, well, it kind of peaked my interest. Then you look at Yasser Arafat in the index and he gets a whoppin' 60 mentions. O' course, Tom's greatest pride, and it doesn't take long to figure that out, is "peace-keepin'." But why he can set down with terrorists like Adams and Arafat and treat 'em with the same honor and respect he treats Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and John Major, well, that's a peacekeeper's job. The extent to which Tom twisted Mr. Rabin's arm to give Arafat part of Israel's back forty, well, we'll never know. Poor Mr. Rabin gave away so much of his land he was assassinated by what must have been an Israeli hard-liner. These peacekeepin' games are obviously more dangerous than paintin' a fence. No matter what fence or sign it is, though, Tom still has that ole knack o' gettin' other people to paint it for 'im. Some, I'm sorry to say, pay with their blood, like Rabin, or just despair o' the going's on, like Mr. Vince Foster, and shoot themselves. It must be hard for normal Joe's to watch this peace-keeper drink beer and sing Irish songs with the likes of Jerry Adams. It's all part o' the job, though, 'n someone's gotta do it, or there ain't gonna be no peace, ya know?

Tom's a progressive Southern Baptist. It's the progressive part that kind of gets me a l'il nervous. Progressive taxation, you know, didn't really hurt the rich like they promised. It sure did start cuttin' the balls off middle-class wage earners, though. Tom apologizes 'bout never really givin' the middle class tax cut he promised, but, what the hell, Canadian Liberals promised to rescind tax on goods 'n services. That promise got 'em back into office, but did they do it? Hell, no! I just guess that's part o' bein' a "progressive" politician.

Progressive Southern Baptist, though, now that's somethin'.

Tom's first father confessor, so to speak, was Dr. W.O. Vaught, kind of the King of Arkansas' Progressive Southern Baptists. He can't be too bad. Even Billy Graham told Dr. Vaught, who was on his deathbed, that they'd both see each other later. "At the Eastern Gate," said Rev. Graham.

Hmmmmmmmmm.

Tom said that's the main entrance. I don't know what happens to folks at the North, South 'n Western gates but it mustn't be as good as the Eastern Gate.

Well, I called a friend who knows a bit about the Bible and he said no one knows how many gates there are in heaven, but there is an Eastern Gate to the Holy City and right now it's still walled up. Has been for a long time.

Gee, hmmmmmmmm, wonder how the Reverends are gonna get in. The Berlin Wall got torn down eventually so I'm not to worried about the Eastern Gate.

The soul of Dr. Vaught, though, puzzles me; but, like I said, anything that calls itself progressive always gets my hackles up. I love jazz, but the words "progressive jazz" doesn't sound like music to me but the politicizing of that art; but what the hell do I know? I'm just a drunk from Detroit and Tom Sawyer's a Progressive Southern Baptist from Arkansas. I know Rev. Pat Robertson called Tom "slick Willy." Tom even says so in his book, but I'm not a big fan of Mr. Robertson because all he really does is politicize religion. Separation o' church 'n state, you know? If you don't keep that promise, guys like Gerry Adams and Osama bin Laden end up Secretary General of the United Nations. Wouldn't that be somethin'?

As for Dr. Vaught, he knew that Tom'd be President while that country boy was still in Arkansas. He told him so and said, kind of, that Tom wouldn't get elected if he opposed capital punishment and abortion. Tom already knew that but Dr. Vaught wanted to emphasize that there's nothin' in the Bible opposing either of 'em. He said, " 'Thou shalt not kill' really means, in the original Greek, 'Thou shalt not murder.'"

I must have my Bible friend find that Greek work in the Big Book and look up its meaning. Can't be a harder job than finding out what "paraclete" means. That's apparently what Christ called the Holy Ghost. It's got two meanings, "comforter" and "advocate," which is a kind of nice way of sayin' "lawyer." Maybe that's what Tom thinks he is, a lawyer for God. I dunno. Never met the man; and, to tell ya the truth, after reading his autobiography, I don't want to.

Tom's getting' a little bit too progressive for me.

Some lady at a cocktail party in New York said, real loud, "Tom's the sexiest thing on earth. He's so irresistible he's post-modern!"

Gee. Don't know quite what to make o' that. I'm so old-fashioned, I guess I'm pre-passe.

At any rate, after Tom's Bible lessons with Dr. Vaught teaching, his other mentor, Senator William Fulbright Jr., keeps poppin' up as a major influence. Tom says he's an "internationalist." I guess that's a non-believer's kind of "progressive." Not a lot of talk about God out of him, but it's pretty clear the Senator fast-tracked Tom into a Rhodes Scholarship. It would have looked a little too close to home if the Senator had just up 'n given Tom one of his own Fulbright Scholarships.

At any rate, guess what book Tom took with him on his extended travel expenses to Soviet Moscow? Edmund Wilson's To The Finland Station. Talk about high-falutin'?! Damn, no wonder my grades at Dartmouth College weren't too good until I reached my major in theater. I remember having to read intellectual Chinese like that in Philosophy 101. Why that beginner's course didn't start with the oldies but goodies like Socrates beats me. I'm reading 'bout things like the "really real" and Hegelian dialectics and, whew, I was lucky to get a passing grade of C-. Nothin' could put me to sleep faster in the stacks of Baker Library tryin' to read Kant.

Found out I just can't

I know that sounds like a double negative but these semi-modern, present-modern and post-modern philosophers start to make all of life sound like a double-negative, with their existentialisms and deconstructionisms. Oh well, so Tom not only read To The Finland Station but actually scheduled his trip along the same lines as Ilyich Lenin's return from exile to pre-revolutionary Russia, takin' himself right through Finland Station which is not in Helsinki but in Leningrad. Russians speak more French than they do Finnish, so Finland in Russia has a whole other meaning to it than just the land surrounding Helsinki.

To keep it light, though, he pulls our leg about "meeting his first real live Communist." A look in the mirror might save him some travel money.

Tom calls Mr. Wilson's book "marvelous." Gee, that's hardly an adjective I'd put on it but, then again, I'm just a has-been actor and Tom is about to become Secretary General of the United Nations. It he's still just a Progressive Southern Baptist and not a Fulbright Internationalist by now he'd better get back to work. Just finding out translators you can trust would be my first priority but, o' course, if you walk into a job like that with a common understanding among all the leaders of how the world is gonna be and what direction the human race is going to go in, then the rest is just fillin' in the painting by numbers, ya know?

I do hope we're not headed to Finland Station. Even the Russians finally tore down Lenin's statue. He was not a nice guy. The author, Vladimir Nabokov, described Lenin as "a pail of the milk of human kindness with a dead rat at the bottom."

I can kind of understand why Edmund Wilson fell for the "milk," not yet knowing about the "dead rat at the bottom," but, gee, our own homeboy, Tom Sawyer, after all those known crimes of Lenin's contract man, Joseph Stalin? Oh, well, that's progressive Christianity, I guess. Their Christ seems to be forgiving everyone for everything. I guess that's why Tom can go into a room with homicidal terrorists and be certain that Christ's taking everyone, without exception, to heaven. There's even a book out now, thank God I can't remember the name of it, that says Adolph Hitler is in heaven. Boy, does that make me feel old-fashioned and very, very unprogressive. As far as I'm concerned, if Hitler's in heaven then the whole human race is in hell, or, at least, on the way.

My Italian father – I'm his son by adoption – tells me that when Christ forgave everyone from the Cross, He really meant He felt sorry for them because of what's going to happen to their souls in eternity. "You don't know who I am," is what my father said Christ meant. Only an Italian would fully understand the implications.

The Tom Sawyer we all know and loved when he was courtin' Becky is a lot different than what he's become now. After Godfathers like W.O. Vaught and Senator William Fulbright Jr., he's one of the most Progressive Peacekeepers I've ever heard of or read about. One of his Becky's, Monica Lewinsky, has said he's "creepy." I think he's fright'ning. But, then again, that's one way to keep the peace: being so scary and weird that both sides sign a treaty so they don't have to sit down with Bill Clinton anymore.

I really don't like painting fences all that much and I certainly don't want to dip my brush into a bucket of blood, but, after seeing the United States perform one and a half million abortions a year, you gotta hand it to Tom, it looks like he's never gonna run outta paint.

Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award winning actor who has appeared in the landmark television series Law and Order, the mini-series Taken, and the recent TV-movie The 4400. In May, Moriarty won a Leo Award (celebrating excellence in British Columbia film) for best supporting actor for his role in the TV-movie Mob Princess.

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