Time Runs Brief Patrick Kennedy Piece, and Much Longer Clinton-Soda Tribute

May 9th, 2006 4:50 PM

Time magazine performed a wee bit better than Newsweek on the Patrick Kennedy front this week. They carry an actual (albeit brief) article by Karen Tumulty in the "NoteBook" section up front. But they also have to spend several pages lionizing ex-President Clinton (in this case, for the "Landmark Soda Agreement.") Tumulty’s piece on Patrick has that familiar poor-wasted-promise theme to it. It concluded:

Kennedy told TIME in 2001 that while privacy would be his "ultimate luxury," there were advantages to having the details of his life be public grist. "It makes you honest about your frailties because – guess what? – you’ve got to get to a place where you can deal with them," he said. "There’s no running away from them in this business." Certainly not if you’re a Kennedy.

(It’s not quite as much of a foot-bathing job as Lance Morrow’s pedicure for his father Teddy Kennedy in 1991:"He is a lightning rod with strange electricities still firing in the air around him -- passions that are not always his responsibility but may emanate from psychic disturbances in the country itself. America does not have a completely healthy relationship with the Kennedys.")

Time’s Nation section begins with the bald-faced Clinton kissup. The headline is "How Bill Put the Fizz in the Fight Against Fat." In this case "Fizz" is on a bright red bottle cap, and the words "Bill" and "Fat" are in attention-getting yellow. The entire adjoining page is an enormous head shot of Clinton. The subtitle? "Slimmed down and scared straight after his bypass surgery, Clinton brokers a deal to get sugary drinks out of schools. And that’s only the beginning." For some reason, they forgot their exclamation point.

Reporter Jeffrey Kluger began with the poor-Bill line, just as Tumulty dished up poor-Patrick. Clinton’s Uncle Buddy had big Sunday lunches: "A big-boned Southern boy couldn’t help plumping up on such fare, eventually growing into a ten who, by his own description, was ‘fat, uncool, and hardly popular with the girls.’ Although the 42nd president surely remedied the coolness and girl problems, the matter of the fat dogged him ever after." Is that the way we treat Clinton’s scandalous un-presidential behavior: the teen boy finally gets cool and bags the babes?

He was a "one-man case study of the U.S.’s food crisis – the compulsiveness, the consequences, even the shame." Bill Clinton has never truly been a case study in shame. Kluger repeated the feeling-Clinton's-pain theme a few paragraphs later:

Whatever the merits of the deal, the way it came about is one more step in the always unfolding narrative of the man whose presidency was as much about his personal weaknesses as his political deftness. For all the bonhomie with which Clinton bore the fat-man jokes thrown at him, it's hard to imagine they bounced off as easily as he made it seem they did. He was widely mocked for his oversize--and overwhite--thighs in the infamous jogging shorts, and there was no end to the snarky media remarks about his ballooning girth on the campaign trail.

Oh, please. Put the hankies away. Did Time magazine ever mock Clinton's jogging shorts in 1992? No. After the election, political writer Walter Shapiro did include this prescient food-snob knock:

Every President ages in office -- and soon baby boomers will glimpse their own mortality in the new care lines on Clinton's face, in the slow droop of his jowls and in his Sisyphean struggles against the thickening of middle life. "I look at Clinton in his dumpy running shorts," sniffs marketing consultant Judith Langer. "He symbolizes the baby-boom generation: they think health, but they don't always resist that chocolate-chip cookie."

And yet, this was in the same article that hailed Clinton’s new status as the Sex Appeal President:

At a moment when the American libido seems to oscillate between Puritanism and rampant exhibitionism, how significant is it that for the first time in more than 30 years the nation has elected a President with sex appeal? The last six Presidents -- Bush, Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson -- combined do not conjure up enough erotic energy to fill a single room at the No-Tell Motel. Forget Gennifer Flowers -- this is not the moment to descend into the muck of her sleazy allegations. Rather, the swooning and the cooing on the rope lines during the last breathless days of the Clinton campaign were unavoidably reminiscent of Kennedy. In Louisville, Kentucky, the scene seemed out of Beatlemania. Women screamed when Clinton reached for their hands as loudspeakers blared out the Fab Four singing, "When I saw her standing there." Cheryl Russell, editor of The Boomer Report, a monthly newsletter on consumer trends, captures a new dimension in the national psyche when she confides, "Every woman I know is having sex dreams about Bill Clinton. We're finally getting a President our own age who we can imagine having sex with. I don't recall anyone having sex dreams about Michael Dukakis."

It should be noted that Kluger was quite willing to bring in left-wing activists like Marion Nestle of New York University to whine and cry that the "Landmark Soda Agreement" wasn't tough enough. But not to the point that it lessened Clinton's ex-presidential luster.

Kluger ended the 2006 version of Clinton-pandering journalism with a dose of syrup that Clinton wants banned in school vending machines: "The ability to make deals and knock heads was one of the greatest gifts Clinton brought to his often controversial presidency. Five years removed from the Oval Office, he is 10 years younger than Ronald Reagan was when he entered it. That leaves a lot of good works and a lot of good years ahead--years Clinton bought himself by learning the same healthy lessons he's now trying to teach kids."