September 30, 2017

"What remains enthralling, though, are Millett’s close readings, her exposés of the naked emperors of the literary left."

"'After receiving his servant’s congratulations on his dazzling performance, Rojack proceeds calmly to the next floor and throws his wife’s body out of the window,' is Millett’s deadpan description of the aftermath of the hero’s sodomization of a maid in Mailer’s An American Dream. Millett then observes, 'The reader is given to understand that by murdering one woman and buggering another, Rojack became a "man."'"

Writes Judith Shulevitz in "Kate Millett: ‘Sexual Politics’ & Family Values" (New York Review of Books):
For a glorious moment, this very bookish literary critic was the face of American feminism. The New York Times called her the “high priestess.” After “Prisoner of Sex” became the talk of the town—and the revered Harper’s editor Willie Morris was fired for publishing it—Mailer organized a riotous debate known as “Town Bloody Hall,” which was filmed by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker and is now streamable. It was a circus, and it was Millett who set it in motion, even though she refused to show up. Mailer aimed a torrent of insults at the feminists who did agree to take the stage or appear in the audience, among them Greer, Diana Trilling, Susan Sontag, Betty Friedan, and Cynthia Ozick. They rolled their eyes and gave as good as they got—much better, in most cases—and the crowd roared with delight. Try to imagine a public clash of ideas being so joyously gladiatorial today.
Here it is:



ADDED: The word "bugger" (for anal sex) is rare these days. Did you know the word is related to "Bulgarian"? From the Online Etymology Dictionary:
bugger (n.) "sodomite," 1550s, earlier "heretic" (mid-14c.), from Medieval Latin Bulgarus "a Bulgarian" (see Bulgaria), so called from bigoted notions of the sex lives of Eastern Orthodox Christians or of the sect of heretics that was prominent there 11c. Compare Old French bougre "Bulgarian," also "heretic; sodomite."

bugger (v.) "to commit buggery with," 1590s, from bugger (n.)...
The earliest use of "bugger" to express "annoyance, hatred, dismissal, etc.," is, according to the OED, in the diary John Adams, in 1779: "Dr. W[inship] told me of Tuckers rough tarry Speech, about me at the Navy Board.—I did not say much to him at first, but damn and buger my Eyes, I found him after a while as sociable as any Marble-head man."

AND: Here's a William Safire column (from 1995) on the word "bugger," written after some Congressman said "We're here to nail the little bugger down" (and the "little bugger" was Bill Clinton). How disrespectful was it?

The Oxford English Dictionary Supplement categorizes the word as "coarse slang," but not a vulgarism; the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang shows four senses: "a despicable person," "a fellow; person," "a thing" and "an undertaking that is difficult," and adds, "The Standard English sense 'sodomite' is no longer commonly understood in the U.S."

In the same way, the slang verb bugger off means only "beat it," or "get out of here," or their extension, "don't give me that stuff." James Joyce used the term in that imperative-departure sense in his novel "Ulysses": "Here bugger off, Harry. There's the cops!" This is predominantly a British usage, as is bugger-all, meaning "nothing."

As a verb, however, to bugger is now, and has been since its coinage from a 1555 noun, plainly obscene. It means "to engage in anal copulation." No ifs or ands. A second sense of the verb is not obscene, with its past participle meaning "cursed, damned," as in "I'll be buggered." A third sense, often combined with up, means "confuse, discombobulate." This is as acceptable as screw up, which followed the same metaphoric trail from verbal obscenity. (You can say all screwed up on American television or all buggered up on British television without raising eyebrows.)

It would help if the noun bugger were applied only to small objects, and the slang term for "sodomite" were limited to buggerer, but such orderliness cannot be imposed on language....

Both noun and verb could be attacked on grounds of ethnic slur: the French bougre comes from Bulgarian, a name for a sect considered heretic in the 11th century, to whom various abominations were ascribed. The good citizens of modern Bulgaria have a right to complain, but life is unfair.

To come to the point, it was disrespectful to call the President a "little bugger," or even a big bugger or a canny bugger, but it was not intended to be, or widely taken to be, obscene; a family newspaper or broadcaster was proper to report the noun as spoken. Just be careful about using it as a verb.

60 comments:

J2 said...

No. You left out the star of this clip, Jill Johnston. Hilarious and adorable.

Greg Hlatky said...

Kate Millett was truly representative of radical feminism: she was a mental case.

Leigh said...

So the revolution won't be complete until every woman is a lesbian, eh? The more things change, the more they stay the same (except for the gladiatorial part).

tim in vermont said...

College used to be like that. Now conforming is a virtue.

Paco Wové said...

In my own personal pantheon of art, Norman Mailer stands as perhaps the archetypal blowhard Boomer writer.

tim in vermont said...

The problem with open debate is that it opens the tiny possibility of questioning authority.

mockturtle said...

My husband used to say, "Bugger off".

Big Mike said...

Miller was scarcely the only writer who got wealthy and famous for writing bad sex scenes back in that era. Surely you've read Mary McCarthy?

Ann Althouse said...

"No. You left out the star of this clip, Jill Johnston. Hilarious and adorable."

I didn't. NYRB did.

If people start mistaking the indented text for things I'm writing, we're in big trouble.

Bill said...

Yes, Kate Millett was a rad-fem, mentally ill, etc. And yet . . .

I don't think a month passes that I don't think of her book The Basement, which was about the 1965 torture-murder of 16 year-old Sylvia Likens. I read it over a few nights in a bookstore when it was first published. It actually made me resolve to be a kinder person. Go figure.

mockturtle said...

Dylan Thomas once used the expression, "Snug as a bugger in Rugby". I never visited Rugby so don't know if it is/was a hotbed of anal sex but I love his alliterative skills.

William said...

There's not much to choose from between Mailer and Millet.

buwaya said...

I am the wrong audience for that argument I guess, as everyone there seems silly, or worse. Its also a view of what would congeal into the modern fortresses of perverse absurdity. Knowing how it all turns out takes the charm out of it.

Angel-Dyne said...

I always liked the Pidgin expression "all bugger up".

The Cracker Emcee Activist said...

Mailer wasn't a blowhard, he was a provocateur. He knew what he was doing. Reminds me of someone else....

Angel-Dyne said...

buwaya: I am the wrong audience for that argument I guess, as everyone there seems silly, or worse. Its also a view of what would congeal into the modern fortresses of perverse absurdity. Knowing how it all turns out takes the charm out of it.

I think this is one of those things whose "charm" is entirely dependent on nostalgia - in this case the most pathological of all nostalgias, Boomer nostalgia.

As one of those "technically a Boomer but really born too late to be culturally a Boomer", a salutary prejudice fills the space that in older Boomers is occupied by the above sentiment. So I share your perception of the silliness and the long noisome congealing thereof.

Down Valley Scum said...

Norm wasn't a boomer. He wa a Marine grunt in WWII. That makes him a member of the Greatest Generation.

YoungHegelian said...

so called from bigoted notions of the sex lives of Eastern Orthodox Christians or of the sect of heretics that was prominent there 11c.

Almost, but not quite.

The Bogomils, like their later spiritual cousins in Provence, the Albigensians, were Manicheans. All Manicheans believed that we as humans are "sparks of light", imprisoned in the gross & evil matter that are our bodies. "Salvation" was accomplished by freeing the spirit from its prison of matter.

Among the Manichees, their spiritual leaders, the adepts, maintained strict celibacy, were vegetarian, & only ate light colored food (e.g. white, not red wine). But, among the flock, who still had to maintain productive lives, such rigors were not possible.

Sexual relations in particular were a cause of great concern to the Manichees. If sexual relations produced a child, another spark of spiritual light had then become imprisoned in the flesh. But, the average Bogomil Manichee, like all average men & women, could not be expected to live a life of chastity. So, what to do? Well, they split the difference & enjoined the flock to perform acts of non-reproductive sex if they must do anything sexual at all. Thus, the association of the Bogomils with anal sex among the Orthodox Byzantines.

mockturtle said...

YH, I know that you, as a Catholic, will defend the libelous claim that the Albigenses were Manichean in their doctrine. While I could write a long dissertation to rebut this claim, I won't bore the other commenters here by doing so. Will you at least acknowledge that your views have been heavily influenced by your Church and that they could be in error?

Paco Wové said...

"Norm wasn't a boomer. He wa a Marine grunt in WWII."

Point taken. Nevertheless, I will persist in my Boomer-hate by arguing that it was the Boomers that elevated him.

Angel-Dyne said...

mockturtle: YH, I know that you, as a Catholic, will defend the libelous claim that the Albigenses were Manichean in their doctrine. While I could write a long dissertation to rebut this claim, I won't bore the other commenters here by doing so.

Ah, c'mon, mock. I wouldn't be bored at all by some hot YH v. mock schismatic action. I only know the Cliff Notes version of this stuff. I wanna see some heretic v. orthodox blood(y pixels) on the floor.

Just like the good old days. If slightly less murderous.

buwaya said...

On the Albigensians, Cathars et al, I side with St. Dominic.
We could use old Dominic today, or a hundred of him.
They would have a great deal of work.
One of the most influential Spaniards ever btw.

Ralph L said...

George V's only recorded bit of wit was when the town of Bognor asked to become Bognor Regis after he convalesced there in 1928. He replied, "Bugger Bognor." This was not relayed to the city fathers.

I was going to mention the cockeyed, transsexual buggerer theme of today's blog, but that would not be nice because of its age--and possibly inaccurate.

I wonder about the sexual preference of transsexuals. Are they trying to be faux het or what?

Ralph L said...

What was St Dominic's side? Kill them all, convert them, or ignore them?

Michael K said...

Norm wasn't a boomer. He was a Marine grunt in WWII. That makes him a member of the Greatest Generation.

So was Anton Myrer, whose book, "Once an Eagle" is till revered as one of the best novels about the military ever written. It is recommended for al War College students.

Mailer not so much.

YoungHegelian said...

@mockturtle,

I know of no scholar who considers the Albigensians to be anything other than as a variant of Manicheanism. If you know some, trot 'em out & let's discuss them.

It's not like the Albigensians left us a lot of documents to work with, is it? The most detailed writings come from their opponents (e.g. the early Dominicans) It's difficult to know how trust-worthy they are in their views, since polemical writings against the Manichees go back to before Augustine, & it may be that Manicheanism was the closest round hole that the Dominicans could find to fit their square peg into.

But, I suspect that lurking behind your comment is that habit that Protestants of yore had where they saw every pre-Reformation heresy stomped on by the Church as proto-Protestantism. And I ain't buying that no way, no how. I'll grant Wycliffe & the Lollards as proto-Protestant, but they're real close in time anyway.

I'll stop here, as I'm afraid I've put quite enough words into your mouth, & that's not my intent.

buwaya said...

Dominic preached, and taught and organized preachers.
Thats why Dominicans to this day are designated OP, Ordo Praedicatorum.

In his day heresy was mostly fought with words. Much of heretical thought came simply of a lack of presence of clergy, or of very poorly prepared local clergy. Any plausible religious entrepreneur could find a fallow field.

Not too different today really.

I am not against the inquisition, it was appropriate in its time and place, and if it could be arranged, even today it would be very helpful.

YoungHegelian said...

@BP,

In his day heresy was mostly fought with words

Yes, until the secular authorities felt that their interests were at stake, at which point it got fought with armies, imprisonment, torture, & death.

I'll live with Protestant friends & neighbors & even radical lesbian nuns rather than have the secular state bring its bloody hands into the discussion yet again. Modern Europe was created out of these religious wars, & the Founding Fathers knew well what they aimed to prevent by keeping the state out of religious affairs.

buwaya said...

I am a medieval man myself, or rather an early modern one maybe. I stand with my ancient monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. They knew what they were doing.

Religious wars are still with us, they simply dispense with the religion, which is not a net gain.

YoungHegelian said...

@BP,

I am a medieval man myself, or rather an early modern one maybe.

You can say that with much more ease than I can because you do not bear the burden & the blessing of being American born & raised. A "European" conservative can see himself as a part of those pre-classical modern traditions in a way an American can't naturally do.

The American people are still very religious. All of them, even the Catholics & Orthodox, down to their very bones, want the state out of the religion business. It's very much a part of the American self-image.

mockturtle said...

YH, I would recommend The History of the Ancient Vallenses and Albigenses by George Stanley Faber. In particular, Book II Chapter III.

mockturtle said...

And I agree that, in these hyper-secular times, arguing doctrinal fine points is counterproductive. As I've said before, I think we can all accept The Apostle's Creed [lower-case 'catholic'].

Original Mike said...

"It means "to engage in anal copulation." No ifs or ands."

or butts.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

As I understand it, "bugger" does come from "Bulgarian," but dates from the 13th c., not the 11th. It's connected with the Albigensian heresy, which (among other things) deemed procreation immoral, and buggery was a way of avoiding that.

grackle said...

I think this may be the forum at which Mailer called homosexuality “unnatural.” For that he was frozen out of the New York City intellectual scene. The laughter is misleading because I think this debate turned very nasty – if it is the debate I’m thinking it is. Lesbian feministas are not very forgiving. After a few months of the snubbing Mailer swallowed his pride and kissed ass but he never really got back into the NYC intellectual elites’ good graces.

I found Mailer’s fiction to be unreadable. His first novel, “The Naked and the Dead,” is a mediocre and unrealistic depiction of the US Army during WW2 in the South Pacific. Try reading “Barbary Shore.” I managed to read maybe 50 pages before giving it up. “The Executioner's Song” is well written but Mailer stole the idea from a new genre invented by Truman Capote with the publication of “In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences.” Capote, of course, could write circles around Mailer or almost any other writer during his time on the literary scene.

Mailers essays are much better than the two novels I unsuccessfully tried to read. Stick with them is my advice.

More advice: If you are interested in accurate depictions of military life in the WW2 era your best bet is James Jones’s novel “From Here to Eternity,” which was adapted into a wonderful movie. Jones’s “The Pistol” and “The Thin Red Line” are also worth reading if military-based novels are of interest.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Oh, rats. A dozen people have beaten me to it.

William said...

I never read any of Mailer's later novels, but the reviews all said that they featured a lot of anal sex. I have nothing useful to add to a discussion of the Albigensian heresy.

wild chicken said...

I liked Millet's Looney Bin Trip. I'm paranoid enough to think I could have been committed, too.

YoungHegelian said...

@mockturtle,

The Farber is an example of what I mentioned in my 12:44 comment to you: "...that habit that Protestants of yore had where they saw every pre-Reformation heresy stomped on by the Church as proto-Protestantism."

Farber tries in the book to argue against Bishop Bossuet's thesis that one of the marks of the true Church is that it exists as a continuous,"visible" institution since its founding by Christ. So, the question from the Romans to the Protestants is: "Where the hell were you all those pre-Reformation years?". I would think that the [High] Anglican Church could claim, with some good reason, "in the same damn place that you were", but Farber lies on the more Evangelical wing of the Anglican Church, so he doesn't want to take that out. So, he argues for these "heretical" movements as being, to use Luther's phrase, a "Babylonian Exile" of the True Church.

This work is from the early 1800s, & would, by modern standards, be considered too polemical/apologetic of a history for modern historical tastes. Which is not to say it's wrong. Gibbon's "Rise & Fall of the Roman Empire" is every bit as polemical, & it still is a classic. But, understand that Farber has a theological axe to grind here, & it's a tough old axe to sharpen.

My favorite, though it too is a little long in the tooth for modern historical tastes, is Sir Steven Runciman's The Medieval Manichee. Very readable, & Runciman was incredibly learned as only British & German scholars of that generation could be.

The modern scholarly leaning is to see Manicheanism & Gnosticism not so much as Christian heresies, or Christian at all, but as faiths in their own right. This view, too, tends to play fast & loose with the surviving texts, & assumes that the Church Fathers were stupid, which they weren't. They knew the world they lived in much better than we can reconstruct it. Especially Gnosticism. Probably no other topic from the ancient world has piled up more scholarly booyah in the last 50 years than Gnosticism.

YoungHegelian said...

Okay, true story.

Every now & then, in my business dealings, I come across what I call a "kindred soul" -- someone who shares my philosophical, theological, or historical interests.

Back in the 90's I was consulting to the Executive Office on a project to recover all the email that applied to the Iran/Contra affair from the EOP's backups. One day, we were having a good-bye lunch for an employee, 7 I sat across from a gentleman a bit older than me. Some how, don't ask me how, he and I got into an argument on, you guessed it, the Albigensian Crusade. We were going at it, & a co-worker said "What the fuck are you two talking about?".

Well, he looked at me & I at him, & we said "So, how do you know this shit?". Turns out, he had done a doctorate at Yale in Anglo-Saxon, & taught there for a while (he was on Camille Paglia's PhD committee). We became good friends after that.

Leora said...

Kate Millet was absolutely right about An American Dream. And it's racist to boot.

The Naked and the Dead may not be realistic but I think it's a great novel. I read it decades ago but still can recall parts vividly. I think Mailer suffered from writing his only great book at a the beginning of his career. His quests for attention were embarrassing at times, but fairly amusing to those of us watching on tv and reading magazines in the 60's.

YoungHegelian said...

Mailer was probably the end of the "Manly & Butch" wing of the modern Left, which included folks like Hemingway & Dashiell Hammett. They, in all honesty, treated their women like shit ("but ya know ya love it, baby..", but they didn't). They also loathed homosexuals in that way that good lefties at the time could, seeing them as a by-product of decadent capitalism.

The yet-to-be-written history of modern feminism will explore its genesis as a reaction by women on the Left against how appallingly awful they were treated by men of the Left. Left-wing autophagia at its finest, I tells ya!

Okay, I'll shut up now.

mockturtle said...

But, understand that Farber has a theological axe to grind here, & it's a tough old axe to sharpen.

And we know that the RCC has no theological axe to grind. ;-)

mockturtle said...

YH: I would be the first [not the first, in reality] to ascribe heresy to Gnosticism and Manicheism. I'm arguing that neither the Albigenses nor the Waldenses [Vallenses] were either. They themselves denied such claims. It was clearly in the interest of the RCC to point the finger of heresy at them as they refused to acknowledge its authority.

YoungHegelian said...

They themselves denied such claims

The problem then becomes, sticking with the Albigensians, what sources do we have for their side? To support their claims, one must read the writings of their opponents "against the grain", so as to speak.

The RCC didn't have to point the finger at them for Manicheanism unless the shoe fit. It wasn't like the Church had a shortage of heresies to choose from. It was the Eastern Churches that had dealt with the various Manichean heresies before, & not the RCC. They had no reason nor recent experience to pull the Manichean rabbit out of the heresy hat.

The other thing to remember about the Dominican records is that, at least in the case of the Spanish Inquisition to follow, they are the very model of detail & legal probity. Historians can tell us the price of a spoon or fork in 1520's Salamanca to the penny because the Inquisition kept such meticulous records of what the court impounded from the accused parties. This was the order that gave birth to Thomistic Scholasticism. They loved details & hair-splitting distinctions. It just seems unlikely to me that they would be so sloppy in their categorization of such a major heresy in their midst.

Ken B said...

"Just be careful about using it as a verb"

Bugger that.

Baceseras said...

"Norm wasn't a boomer. He was a Marine grunt in WWII."

Point taken. Nevertheless, I will persist in my Boomer-hate by arguing that it was the Boomers that elevated him.


I think Mailer was Army, not Marines. In any case, he was elevated long before the Boomers latched onto him - elevated by his own generational cohort, and, in fact, by many of his elders. It was for his seriousness and ambition, presumed to be artistic ambition and not mere on-the-make hustle. His writing in The Naked and the Dead hit a sweet spot surprisingly often, and if it often also stretched into excess (wretched excess), that was allowed as a defect of his virtues: he was daring, he took risks.

By the time the Boomers picked up on Mailer, he had receded to Clown Prince status in the view of his earlier admirers. (Deer Park, a novel, and Advertisements for Myself, a blabbermouth miscellany, kept finding new ways to hold an audience's attention while writing atrociously.)

Mailer is one of the rare cases of an artist retaining the epithet "promising" until well past the late-middle of his career.

mockturtle said...

It just seems unlikely to me that they would be so sloppy in their categorization of such a major heresy in their midst.

Not sloppy, YH. Just vindictive.

rcocean said...

Good God, Mailer was WW2 GI and saw a few days of combat in the Philippines in 1945. He wasn't a boomer, he was the mythical "Greatest Generation Ever".

He tried to be Jewish Hemingway and failed miserably - except for being a Leftist. Papa was Commie, in case you didn't know. Spied for the KGB.

Mailer's a great example of someone who needed a good editor, censorship, and a demanding public to be any good. Great at writing about what he knew -personally. Awful when he tried to write about people unlike himself. Also, verbose and addicted to rambling on about politics and "the world".

William said...

You learn many useful and informative athings by reading the comments section. Who ever knew that there was a religion that advocated anal sex for its followers. I wonder how medieval peasants handled UTI's. If I were alive back then, I would form a separate schism that was into handjobs and oral sex. It's better to burn at the stake than at the urethra.......Norman Mailer didn't have such a bad war. I read somewhere that he went on one combat patrol and that was the extent of his war experience. Jones, Styron, Heller, Salinger and others had far more horrendous experiences.

William said...

"The Naked And The Dead" and "From Here To Eternity" were supposed to have been the two big novels of WWII, but, as it turns out, Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse 5 are the two novels that have resonated across generations.

Jupiter said...

The Naked And The Dead is a pretty good book, but Thin Red Line is the best novel I have read about the war in the Pacific.

Mailer was pretty smart, and deeply superstitious. He believed almost everything.

Paco Wové said...

Ok, I surrender. I can't blame Mailer on the Boomers.

rcocean said...

James Jones was a regular army soldier who fought on Guadalcanal. Wounded in action, he returned to the USA for extensive treatment.

The result was "from here to eternity" and "Thin red line"

By comparison, Mailer was a fraud. A few days in combat before VJ day, he spend most of 1944-45 as a clerk-typist.

Vonnegut's "Slaughter-house Five" is a thin, cartoonish book. An Anti-war book, Vonnegut "bravely" published in 20 years after WW 2 at the height of he anti-Vietnam war protests. The man was a better comedian then a novelist. And so it goes.

Roughcoat said...

The two best books about World War II in the Pacific are nonfiction accounts that read like novels, "With the Old" and "Faithful Warriors: A Combat Marine Remembers the Pacific War."

buwaya said...

"With the Old Breed", Sledge.

I will add a novel that competed at the time with "The Naked and the Dead" and "From Here to Eternity", but is unfortunately forgotten now. I prefer it to either of Mailers or Jones novels above. I read it several times since the fourth grade, which is I guess an odd choice for a kid.

"Away All Boats", Dodson
This was perennially in the US Naval Institute catalog from the 1950s.

William said...

I don't think that Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse 5 are the best novels to come out of WWII, but those are the novels that are read by people under twenty and those novels will, therefore, continue to be read for another generation or two......."A Farewell to Arms" and "All Quiet on the Western Front" are the two WWI novels that everyone has read. There are probably better novels, but those are the two that made the posterity cut.

Robert Cook said...

"Miller was scarcely the only writer who got wealthy and famous for writing bad sex scenes back in that era. Surely you've read Mary McCarthy?"

Are you referring to Henry Miller? Quite to the contrary...he was never really that famous, and he certainly never got rich. He rarely was even financially comfortable. His most famous books, Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, were not legally available in the U.S. for 30 years after they were published in Europe. None of his books were ever best-sellers.

Robert Cook said...

"Vonnegut's 'Slaughter-house Five' is a thin, cartoonish book. An Anti-war book, Vonnegut "bravely" published in 20 years after WW 2 at the height of he anti-Vietnam war protests."

You call SLAUGHTER-HOUSE FIVE an anti-war book as if it is a bad thing. I would be dubious about any book, as I would be about any person, that was pro-war.

Vonnegut didn't wait 20 years to publish SH-V because he wasn't "brave" enough to do so earlier. (What would have been so "brave" about it? So you think his publishing an anti-war novel earlier would have hurt his career?) He couldn't figure out how to write about his experiences during the war in a way that satisfied him. When he was able to devise an approach he felt worked, he wrote the book.

I like SH-F very much. I haven't read it in years, so I won't try to claim it's a "great" book. I'd have to read it again to see what I think now. CATCH-22 is a great book.

ken in tx said...

Some people confuse the Southernism Booger with Bugger, probably because of the accent. I remember that George Wallace once referred to himself as 'not such a bad booger, after all', and Time magazine printed the word as 'bugger' thinking he was making some kind of sexual remark. In addition to the usual reference to nasal mucus, the word can refer to ghosts, goblins, and the devil, as in 'The Boogerman'. It can also refer to something difficult to deal with or an ornery or annoying person, as in 'Pulling that transmission was a real booger' or 'That old boy is just one mean booger'. I suspect that that was the usage applied to President Clinton by the congressman.