Magazine article The Spectator

America and Its Priapic Presidents

Magazine article The Spectator

America and Its Priapic Presidents

Article excerpt

SEYMOUR STREET and Seymour Hersh are several thousand miles apart, except when it comes to evaluating presidencies. The latter is a Pulitzer prize-winning author, the former is a thoroughfare in downtown Vancouver, where President Bill Clinton was for this week's Asia-Pacific summit. I don't know whether his motorcade passed down the aforementioned street but, if it did, he might have noticed the marquee above the Penthouse strip club: `Welcome Prez Clinton, our lips are sealed' - i.e., he and the girls are old pals. It could be. If you'll forgive a little Maple Leaf pride, many of the most highly regarded strippers in the United States are Canadian, their whirling tassels extending even unto Little Rock, Arkansas.

But, on balance, I think the ladies were just having a joke. Though the President is said to be fretting about his place in history, on Seymour Street and elsewhere it's already secure: he's one of the great comic figures of the age. South of the border and back on the East Coast, Seymour Hersh can only marvel. He's just published a book about President Kennedy, who, even by the most tactful underestimate, had a sexual appetite that makes Bill Clinton look like Marie Osmond. `You know,' JFK remarked to Bobby Baker, secretary to the Senate Democrats, in the Oval Office one morning, 'I get a migraine headache if I don't get a strange piece of ass every day.' And it seems he did, even in the White House: society gals, hookers, East German communists, three in a bed, two in a bath, with a secret service agent standing by to shove the girl's head underwater at a given signal, thereby causing vaginal contractions and thus intensifying the presidential orgasm. All ass, all the time, regardless of whether it was a quiet day with not much going on or the height of the Cuban missile crisis.

Hersh is no right-wing, Kennedy-hating kook. As the man who alerted America to the My Lai massacre and CIA domestic spying, he has impeccable liberal credentials. The sex is in there only insofar as it impinges on national security, defence contracts and White House operations, and it's well-sourced - the whores and nude pics are confirmed by the gallery owner who framed White House photos for over three decades and by various secret service agents - all with names, potted biographies and even photographs. Yet The Dark Side of Camelot has been denounced as 'evil' and `utterly without credibility' by Time, the Washington Post, the New York Times and even The Spectator's high life correspondent.

Camelot's `fleeting wisp of glory', its `one brief shining moment' is proving surprisingly durable: a year into his second term, poor old Clinton is haemorrhaging staff day by day, whereas after 35 years Kennedy's vast army of sycophants is as fanatically loyal, as ruthlessly protective as ever. What on earth are they so steamed up about? Anyone who investigates the squalid, cheesy Kennedy White House comes to pretty much the same conclusions as Hersh does. The British author Nigel Hamilton wrote a cracking account of Jack's early years, JFK Reckless Youth, the first part of a two-volume biography. The second half never appeared. Hamilton, a Kennedy admirer, was so disgusted by what he uncovered about his hero that he abandoned the project. That's what so riles Hersh's detractors: this is all the stuff they were too dazzled to spot at the time.

Why is it that Seymour Hersh and even Seymour Street see more than the Washington media? Well, for one thing, they don't want to see: the grandees of American journalism approach the grubbier sides of Kennedy and Clinton the way Dan Maskell reacted to John McEnroe: there'd be ten minutes of racket-hurling and `You cannot be serious, man!' after which Dan would murmur, `McEnroe still having trouble with his beckhend.' To dwell on the seediness would not only bring American politics into disrepute but, worse, American journalism. For example, Bill Clinton is the first president in the history of the Republic to issue statements about his penis: the other week, his spokesperson denied that there was anything unusual about the First Member; in other words, he didn't have Peyronie's disease and it wasn't bent - or, as President Nixon almost said, `It is not a crook. …

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