Now that the Inauguration Day gloves are off and Paula Jones is back on the op-ed page, I have a bone to pick with White House strategist James Carville.
Carville, in a remark that is gaining infamy, had this to say about Jones’ sexual harassment allegations against President Clinton:
“Drag a hundred dollars through a trailer park, and there’s no telling what you’ll find.”
Jones, at least, has a group of supporters working to defend her reputation. But what about the good name of all those anonymous folks whose homes just happen to come equipped with a set of wheels and a hitch?
Trailer camps have been around since the 1930s, and for a time they occupied a romantic niche in our landscape, epitomizing the American dream of a freer, more adventurous mode of life in which distinctions of wealth and class gave way to the cheerful camaraderie of the open road.
Trailers, like Greyhound bus rides, used to be for everyone - even stars like Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, whose movie, “The Long, Long Trailer,” was a box-office hit.
By the late ‘50s, people with modest paychecks had begun to discover the advantages of living in a trailer full time.
To set up housekeeping in one, you didn’t have to come up with a hefty down payment or qualify for a mortgage, yet you still had four walls to call your own, even if they were made of crimped aluminum rather than wood or brick. And if times got tough, you could always move on, snug and efficient as a turtle in its shell.
As the trailer put down roots, it became less a symbol of unlimited horizons, however, and more one of limited means. Today, trailer parks serve all too often as fodder for stand-up comics and as shorthand expression for low class, uneducated, lazy, immoral and stupid.
There’s even a guy here in town marketing “Trailer Trash Barbies,” big-haired dolls with T-shirts that read, “My daddy is the best kisser in the county.”
And now Carville, a man who is paid, after all, to sniff the winds of public sentiment, has joined the fray. I’m not sure what sort of trailer parks Carville hangs out in, but the ones I know are filled with plain old hard-working taxpayers, the sort of everyday heroes Carville’s boss so eloquently lauds in his speeches.
Several years back, Carville and his wife, Republican campaign strategist Mary Matalin, hired on as spokespersons for some sort of fancy catalog company. I can still see the ads vividly: two-page spreads in upscale magazines showing the Carville-Matalins outside their self-consciously rustic home, standing in the sea of yuppie merchandise.
The spectacle offended me at the time because it seemed such an apt metaphor for the way in which politics has degenerated into marketing and the way in which anything, whether it’s a digitally monitored step aerobics machine or a couple of big-time political consultants, can be had for the right price.
Incidentally, Carville lent his talents to Hollywood in “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” a film that has been hotly criticized for its glossed-over portrayal of the man who brought us, among other things, the gang rape photo essay and the womansmeared-with-excrement centerfold. An interesting choice for a film debut, in light of Carville’s moral squeamishness about something as innocuous as a bunch of mobile homes.
The sad truth is, when I think of cheatin’, lyin’, money-grubbin’, sex-crazed low-lifes, a trailer park is not, quite frankly, the first locale that comes to mind.
Drag a sack of greenbacks through the corridors of Washington, and I guarantee you’ll pick up more than lint.