July 25, 2021

Looking redundantly back in retrospect

The desk calendar that I got for Christmas from a reader who apparently was trying to send me some sort of cryptic message relative to the importance of engaging brain before putting mouth in gear features what its cover bills as “The 365 stupidest things ever said” — one immortal utterance for each day of the year.

“A girl who is 17 is much more of a woman than a boy who is 17,” courtesy of a story that was published in the New York Journal American newspaper, is an example of the content. The entry for May 3 features former vice president Dan Quale’s unique geopolitical insight: “The global importance of the Middle East is that it keeps the Far East and the Near East from encroaching on each other.” And there are Yogi Berra-isms galore, including his assessment of the value of Ted Williams to the Boston Red Sox. (“He’s the big clog in their machine…”)

But the inspiration for today’s harangue on The Big Story Of The Moment — President Clinton’s continuing problems in the sexual peccadilloes department — comes from former Los Angeles Rams quarterback Vince Ferragamo, who is reported to have answered a sportswriter’s question about a previous game by saying, “I don’t like to look back in retrospect.”

Me neither. But then, who does? On the other hand, I have long maintained that redundant hindsight is better than no hindsight at all, even though it often is the province of nitwits who tend to say things such as, “It goes without saying,” prior to saying whatever it is that does not need to be said.

In any case, that Bill Clinton finds himself presently in a jam of major proportions as the result of yet another purported dalliance with a “sweet young thang,” to put it in Bubba-speak, should come as no great surprise. Mr. President apparently is only following in the footsteps of his boyhood idol, the late John F. Kennedy, who, if you can believe Pulitzer Prize winner Seymour Hersh in his new book, “The Dark Side of Camelot,” was a womanizer par excellence.

A well-remembered photograph in various accounts of Bill Clinton’s formative years shows the young, awestruck Clinton as a high school student visiting Washington and being greeted by his hero, JFK. History may record that the lad modeled himself after the late president not only in his liberal politics but in a seemingly unquenchable lecherousness practiced in reckless disregard of the potential consequences. The republic may soon learn whether Clinton’s voracious sexual appetite has somehow compromised national security, as Hersh claims JFK’s threatened to.

Hersh doesn’t spare the details about Kennedy’s rather well-known liaisons with a bevy of beauties such as Marilyn Monroe, mob girlfriend Judith Exner, and Washington party girl Ellen Rometsch, an Elizabeth Taylor look-alike. And he tells us more than we probably ever wanted to know about the late president’s alleged trysts with assorted hookers while away from Washington, much to the frustration and disgust of several former members of his Secret Service detail, named in the book, who spilled the beans in speaking with Hersh. On the record.

Hersh also writes about JFK’s penchant for regular noontime romps, in the buff, in the White House swimming pool with a couple of secretarial bimbos that the Secret Service dubbed Fiddle and Faddle. On one such occasion things were going swimmingly until Jackie, probably suspicious of the situation, decided on short notice that she wanted to take a swim. The Secret Service agent guarding the pool refused to let her in, according to Hersh, and an angry first lady summoned Clint Hill, the senior agent on her detail.

“By the time Clint got there,” the poolside agent recalled, “the president had gotten the word somehow and had fled the pool. You could see one big pair and two smaller pair of wet footprints leading to the Oval Office…”

Fast forward to the 90’s and it is not all that difficult to imagine Bill Clinton, with his track record in matters of the flesh that is becoming more legendary with each passing day, being caught by Hillary in a similar escapade. Apparently such living on the edge goes with the territory, even as it contributes to the lowering of the standards we expect from our leaders.

Hersh quotes former Secret Service agent William T. McIntyre as saying that a scandal about Kennedy’s incessant womanizing was inevitable. “It would have had to come out in the next year or so,” McIntyre said. “In the 1964 presidential campaign, maybe.”

Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 rendered the point moot. Now a disciple faces an embarrassing womanizing-induced public scandal of his own, seemingly with the same Kennedy-like confidence that he can beat the rap yet again. History, like hindsight, can be redundant. Which is what you often find when you look back in retrospect.

NEWS columnist Kent Ward lives in Winterport.

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