Embattled Presidents

Seeing Clinton on the campaign trail stumping for Kerry–a seemingly triumphant MacArthuresque return–brought back some memories of Clinton’s later years in office. One phrase that keeps coming back to me which the media used to the point of clichehood to describe Clinton in those years was embattled.

Simply doing a quick LexisNexis search in major newspapers for the phrase “embattled Clinton” or “embattled President” during Clinton’s second term in office shows over 250 results. “Embattled Clinton finds public support eroding,” announces the Boston Herald on September 20, 1998. “Embattled Clinton forges ahead; will public follow?” asks USA TODAY earlier that year, on January 28.

What was so embattling Clinton? Remember? Not his economic policies, not his environmental record, not his foreign diplomatic endeavors. Sex. Monica Lewinsky and Kenneth Starr’s pornographic report.

Now, I’ve done a similar LexisNexis search for occurrences of “embattled Bush” in lead paragraphs of major newspapers during the past five years. The results? Bush is called “embattled” only five times, and four of these are in the foreign press.

Why is it that, at this point in Bush’s presidency, so close to elections for a second term in office, with virtually every foreign and domestic policy of his administration an utter failure, Bush is not called “embattled” by the American media?

Is it because Bush’s biggest failures–Iraq and his war on terror–satisfy some sort of primeval desire in the American mind for violence? There can be no doubt about it: America is the most violent nation on the planet. And what we sometimes lack in real bloodshed we make up for in cinematic gore.

When it comes to sex, though, as the Clinton example demonstrates, America is the equivalent of a repressed Victorian.

Every evening, Americans can witness a dozen grisly murders on their television screens–and that’s before the 11 o’clock news–but show us one glimpse at a bare nipple during the Super Bowl, and it’s time to call in the morality police.