Once Again, Clinton Tests Credibility

Watching television sporadically, I am blind to the ongoing daydream. But when something does catch my eye it glows like a pillar of fire.

The most recent something was an MTV game show. Two ex-lovers came on to squabble about their defunct relationship. They each had a pseudo-lawyer, and a pseudo-judge presided. It’s a parody of the shows in which Ed Koch plays a judge, which are a parody of real trials. Which, post-O.J., are what?

But during this particular blizzard of ironic air quotes, there was one that caught my ear. The “lawyers” were “arguing,” and the “judge” said, “The horror, the horror.” Come again? That’s what Kurtz says at the end of the Heart of Darkness . Deliberate reference? Random homonyms? Either way, my television was suddenly filled with handless Congolese. Better stick to nature documentaries.

But suppose they document the mating habits of Monica Lewinsky? That would be a horror, though not “the horror.” I missed the Barbara Walters interview not because I was to proud, but because I was working. But, as a former English major, and hence someone who was force-fed Joseph Conrad, I am more interested in the sales figures of Miss Lewinsky’s book. Will her publishers kiss her little pulkes ? It’s too early to tell, but I can report that recently a peddler on Union Square was offering copies of Monica’s Story . Either they were stolen (the most likely explanation) or some jobber had dumped an oversupply. Could the public be sated?

Let us leave this trivia for matters of high moment, such as Hillary Clinton’s political ambitions. One week after I warned her not to run for Senate, she signaled her intentions to run for something. How? Via the story, splashed over Fox News and the New York Post , that she could no longer “stay in the same room” with her husband, much less “the same bed.”

One more “horror” attendant upon celebrity, I thought, finding myself in the odd position of sympathizing with Hillary-until the psychoanalyst who shares my bed set me straight. It was a momentous day when I got my wife at least marginally interested in politics, for she brings to it a brutal psychological realism that makes me feel as dim and fuddled as Warren Harding.

If the story is true, someone close to Mrs. Clinton had to have squawked. That is what Fox News claimed. I focused on the unlikelihood of such a leak-is not Murdochland the heart of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy? But my wife reminded me that everything about Mrs. Clinton is as spontaneous as a NASA launch. (Remember the “candid” shot of her and her husband, “dancing” on the Caribbean beach?) Therefore, she assumed, the leak was deliberate, and authorized at the highest level. But to what end? To start putting distance between the two of them, so that when, on the campaign trail, Mrs. Clinton is asked, “Do you think your husband is a rapist?”-or, more subtly, “Considering the fact that you support rape counseling centers, Mrs. Clinton, do you think your husband is a rapist?”-she can have her flacks say, after the requisite outraged refutations, that Mr. Clinton’s behavior is part of “a past which Hillary still finds very painful.”

Hillary Clinton is not beginning these maneuvers, my wife went on, for the sake of a Senate seat from the Wizened Apple. To the extent her sights are set on elective office, the likeliest target is the White House in 2004. What better vindication than to win the right to sit in the chair before which the babbling tart knelt?

If she wins, I replied, Canada is a fine country; so is Mexico.

Let us leave these high speculations for realities-namely, Juanita Broaddrick and Chinese spying. The White House has tried to fudge each story, in a different way. Regarding Mrs. Broaddrick, the legal Praetorian Guard issued a terse denial. Regarding Chinese atom spying, the emerging line is that it happened in the 1980′s, under Republican Presidents.

The reply to Mrs. Broaddrick has met with ridicule from Republicans and some non-Republicans. Of course there are problems with her tale: the passage of time, the affidavit. But there are also supporting arguments: her refusal to profit by her story; the fact that she told it at the time to friends. What is absolutely clear is that the lawyers who now tell us that it isn’t true also told us, falsely, that the rough draft of Monica’s Story was untrue. Who, on the face of it, is more credible-the Arkansan we have just met, or the one we know all too well?

The White House line on the atom spy also dissolves with a little scrutiny. Granted, he took the secrets on the G.O.P.’s watch. But his deed was discovered on Bill Clinton’s. Presidents often have to deal with nasty surprises. (That’s why we want men of good character in the job.) President Bush would have preferred not to deal with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. In some measure, indeed, he brought the problem on himself by his own confused diplomacy. But once Iraq moved, he knew he had to move in response, and did. President Clinton discovered an unpleasant Chinese move, in the person of a spying scientist. Where is his response?

The problem, in both cases, is credibility. Mr. Clinton is a compulsive pervert, and a compulsive liar. Such a man forfeits the ability to quash a rape charge by dispatching a flack to say that it is untrue. Mr. Clinton had Asian moneymen coming in and out of his re-election campaign like delivery boys carrying takeout. Thanks to absconding witnesses and the stonewalling of Democratic Senators, we still don’t know the whole story of the Clinton campaign’s Asian connection. Such a White House has no standing to argue that its kid-glove handling of an atom spy was dictated by prudence or Realpolitik , rather than self-interest.

We seem to have decided that perjury is not a high crime. But lying is not good politics.