Special To The Washington Post
It’s good to hear that Bill Clinton will be put in charge of revitalizing the economy in a Hillary administration and be sent to troubled areas such as Appalachian coal country and inner-city Detroit, and not just promote literacy or physical fitness, the usual First Lady things. But I hope that at state dinners and other major White House events, we’ll be able to read about what he’s wearing.
Mr. Clinton captivated attention with his form-fitting pale-blue Vargas jacket with asymmetrical side vents and matching trousers, pleated, with empire waist and half-inch slanted cuffs, mauve-striped silk shirt with rounded collar, and coral-red tie, sequined, but it was his footwear, the moccasins, no socks, that had the crowd all a-twitter. A spokesperson for the First Gentleman declined to comment.
Just because you’re in charge of revitalization doesn’t mean you have to go around in a cape with blue tights and a big red S on your chest and red underwear over the tights, a man should be able to wear a light Dacron-linen blend suit now and then too, maybe with a bold blue-striped shirt and an orange polka-dotted tie.
Let me say what nobody has said in print for eight years: Barack Obama looks terrific. He is slim, athletic, and you never see him looking slovenly; even in casual dress he looks very well put together. He never gets credit for this. I guess the Washington press corps thinks it would trivialize the role of Leader of the Free World to discuss his choice of necktie. (If the Big Snapper is elected in November, this will change: he’ll be wearing his own labels and product placement will be very important in his administration, even huge.)
Bill Clinton is looking good, too. As No. 42, he was overweight, pasty-faced, and sweaty, and now, thanks to a timely health scare, he looks like a million bucks. Why shouldn’t he dress up a little?
For centuries, men have felt obliged to look dumpy as a mark of superior intelligence and go slouching around in baggy brown suits and unruly hair so people will think they’re too brilliant to ever think about their appearance. Einstein was responsible: the genius who looked like a tramp. Advertising men and interior decorators were allowed to dress up, as befitting their trades, but a novelist such as myself had to wear jeans and black T-shirts to be taken seriously as a chronicler of postmodern despair. Now that I am a newspaper columnist, I am free to look however I feel. Today I am wearing a traditional MacKay-plaid kilt with black kneesocks and a dagger in my left shoe, while bare-chested except for a leather bandolier and a necklace of wolf teeth. Next week, it may be a velvet tuxedo.
Everybody is wondering if white men will vote for Hillary and, speaking as a white man, I say it depends a lot on Bill. If he looks happy on the sidelines gazing up at her with dewy-eyed admiration, then yes. We white men are looking to expand our mission. We built the bridges, made the trains run on time, raised the flag at Iwo Jima, and taught high-school physics while writing novels, pitching no-hitters, and singing our way into the hearts of millions, and now we’d like to relax a little. We are over-represented in statuary and on American currency (Andrew Jackass, get the hell off the $20 bill) and now we’d like to assume a lesser role.
We white men are primarily responsible for good humor. This is true. Women are ambitious, elbowing each other for advantage, and minority men are satirists and shrewd observers, and we white guys are the ones responsible for chuckling and saying, “Hey, how’s it going?” We are pretty secure in this role. Put us in a fit-and-flare floral shirt and leather slacks and black pumps and we’re okay with that, too. It doesn’t mean we want to use the women’s bathroom.
The election is simple, it comes down to the town librarian versus the town drunk. The Republicans try to portray her as the Dragon Lady, but if you’ve ever heard her speak, you recognize her essential librarian nature. The big question is Bill. Can he be happy, even as he revitalizes the strip-mined ruins of Appalachia and burnt-out blocks of Detroit, and go off to the Kennedy Center looking good in a midnight blue Armani tuxedo with a honeydew shirt accented by diamond studs and cufflinks and a metallic silver bowtie with flecks of taupe?
© 2016, Garrison Keillor. Distributed by The Washington Post Writers Group.