By John Heilemann, Bloomberg News (TNS)
When Larry Flynt is feeling righteous, he describes himself as a crusader: for civil liberties in general and free speech in particular, against capital punishment, political correctness, and hypocrisy in high places. In more mischievous moments, the sobriquets he applies are earthier, funnier — and more on point. His 1996 autobiography was titled An Unseemly Man: My Life as Pornographer, Pundit, and Social Outcast. The slogan of his quixotic 2003 campaign for the California governorship was “the smut peddler who cares.” But now Bloomberg Politics can exclusively report that the impresario behind the Hustler empire is adding a new element to his persona: Flynt is officially ready for Hillary.
The bestowal of Flynt’s blessing on Clinton occurred this week in his sprawling, surreal aerie — with its jumbled-up mix of American southern and Italianate decor, the place has the look of an unholy, Hollywood Babylon hybrid of Tara and the Uffizi — high above Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Flynt’s people had lured me out West with the promise that he had something of import to say about the Democratic front-runner. It took little prompting to get it out of him. “I’m endorsing Hillary Clinton for president!” Flynt declared.
Flynt’s backing of Clinton is, on the face of it, unsurprising. His support for Democrats at the presidential level has been lifelong and unfailing; one of his better friends in politics is California Gov. Jerry Brown, who, as it happened, was next in line to see Flynt after I exited the building. His famous/infamous practice of trawling for the sexual indiscretions of public figures — which reached its apogee during the impeachment furor around Bill Clinton and claimed the scalp of House Speaker-to-be (and then not-to-be) Bob Livingston — has been directed almost entirely at Republicans. On his desk the day we met were galleys from the next issue of Hustler, including a column that confers on George W. Bush the honorific “A**hole of the Century.”
Few Clinton supporters will take issue with the animating impulse behind Flynt’s endorsement: the future makeup of the Supreme Court. “We’ve had a right-leaning court for half a century,” he says from the gold-plated wheelchair he’s occupied since being shot and paralyzed in 1978. “But if Hillary gets in, chances are she’s going to have an opportunity to appoint two, maybe three justices … and we could shift the balance there.”
But no small number of Clinton’s ardent fans, and especially those who regard her as a feminist icon, may find it unsettling — or queasy-making — to have a man who has made a vast fortune in the skin trade squarely in her, and their, corner. For his part, Flynt brushes off the apparent incongruity. He thinks of himself as a feminist (of a kind), he tells me, though he acknowledges that “people in Gloria Steinem’s world, they don’t — they think I’m the misogynist of the century.” As for his candidate, Flynt laughs and says, “I’m sure that Hillary doesn’t necessarily approve of everything I do.”
For Clinton, a raft of endorsements from Capitol Hill to Hollywood have been a rare bright spot in a campaign launch filled with poor reviews and worse headlines. But whatever her private views of Flynt and his profession, it beggars belief that she and her team will be issuing any press releases touting the latest bold-faced name to clamber aboard her bandwagon.
Flynt is well aware of that most politicians prefer to keep their distance from him, and that Hillary will likely be among them. And he professes not to care. “Hillary doesn’t need no help from me,” he says. “All she needs to do is start fighting back” — in particular against “Clinton Cash” author Peter Schweizer, whose campaign against Hillary Flynt likens to that of his bete noire Jerry Falwell against Bill Clinton in 1992. “One of the biggest evangelists in the world put out a video accusing President Clinton of murder — (and Schweizer’s book) is the same kind of smear tactic.”
That Flynt holds a special place in his heart for 42 is evident, and Flynt claims that the feeling is mutual. In 2006, the two men ran into each other at a fundraiser in Las Vegas for Jimmy Carter’s son, Jack, who was running for Senate in Nevada. According to Flynt, Bill Clinton — apparently still grateful for the porn king’s role in the downfall of Bob Livingston, a key moment in the deflation of the impeachment bubble — walked over, shook Flynt’s hand, and said, “You’re my hero.” As I prepare to leave, Flynt shows me a photo on his desk of him and Clinton from the fundraiser, noting that the former president has denied the quote in question. “He can say whatever he wants,” Flynt chuckles. “I have three witnesses.”
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Photo: Toglenn via Wikicommons