The good news about the Lewinsky case is that in the end it will actually widen the privacy zone around sex. Judging from polls and man-on-the-street interviews, many Americans are willing to forgive the President his lies about sex. We understand that politicians like to screw, maybe have to screw, we accept that people lie about adultery if someone is so nosy as to ask. I feel a groundswell of anger building over the big white tents the televangelist media have thrown up outside town to Bible-thump us about Bill Clinton’s sex life, I sense real queasiness over the power given Paula Jones to ask questions many a spouse wouldn’t.
We’re not as dumb as Europeans say. I think the people would even forgive Bill Clinton the 21-year-old. Yes, it has a lot of weird Oedipal baggage and it’s tacky-the gifts of a peasant dress and Walt Whitman poems and the oral sex policy all point to his arrested development, circa high school (why not give her patchouli?). But then everyone is weird about sex one way or another. And as for the girl, after too many years in harassment training it takes just one glimpse of Monica’s videoed bear hug to remember that 21-year-olds are adults with desire and the savvy to act in their own interest.
So if the President were to make a humbled and straightforward confession, with only the faintest trace of Marion Barry’s recovery movement redemption song, I think people would quickly turn on all the repressed suburban reporters now holding forth about pecker tracks on Monica’s dress.
But Bill Clinton won’t slip out of this one, and he shouldn’t be able to. Because this case isn’t about sex, it’s about political organization.
The most chilling detail in the story has already come to light: According to Newsweek magazine’s on-line news service, Monica Lewinsky brought her then-friend Linda Tripp a page of talking points, obviously prepared by a lawyer, that advised Ms. Tripp that if Paula Jones’ lawyers asked her about Monica’s relationship to the President, she should state under oath that Monica had been “stalking” the President.
That’s the filthy heart of the matter. In a way, you need to know nothing more. What it shows is that before anyone else was using Monica Lewinsky, the Clintonites were. Before anyone knew that Linda Tripp was secretly taping poor Monica, before Kenneth Starr was putting the screws on the girl to sell out Vernon Jordan and the President, the Clintonites were recruiting Monica Lewinsky herself in a far more dastardly undertaking: her own character assassination.
A bright 24-year-old was to urge her friend to characterize her under oath as a stalker!
The level of abuse here goes well beyond a boss asking someone for a blowjob or a prosecutor acting bloodthirsty. It’s the casual assumption by a political organization that people’s reputations and even lives are paper towels to be torn off, used and tossed when the President’s reputation is in danger. It’s the kind of thuggery this backwater mob has practiced as no other before it. Watching them in action transformed Linda Tripp from a career secretary with little ideological baggage into a true Fury and revolutionary, someone willing to strap a bomb to her leg and carry a young girl down with her. As she was quoted as saying in The New York Times the other day, Linda Tripp had observed the Clintonites at work in the White House.
“I saw what happens when you go against them. They smear you. They crush the dissidents.”
O.K., we don’t know yet just who wrote the talking points that Monica Lewinsky handed over; the connection to the White House has not yet been demonstrated. But that connection is inevitable. Everyone agrees that the page is a lawyer’s product, and a key feature of the Whitewater scandal has been the close coordination by the White House of friendly outside lawyers, representing supposedly independent parties to the matter. Not long after Webster Hubbell arranges for Clinton crony James Hamilton to represent Vincent Foster’s widow, Lisa Foster, Mr. Hamilton is identified in White House documents as a “surrogate.” David Watkins, the former Friend of Bill who refuses to fall on his sword for Hillary Clinton during Travelgate, gets rid of his big Washington lawyer after he suspects that the man is in cahoots with the White House, then has difficulty finding another attorney. When Monica Lewinsky gets summoned by Paula Jones, one of the first things greasy Vernon Jordan does is get her an attorney, whom she has since replaced with the impressive William Ginsburg.
The pressure the White House applied to Monica Lewinsky produced a crisis in her. What would happen if she didn’t lie? How upset would Bill Clinton be if he knew that she had told someone else about the affair? It’s no coincidence that Linda Tripp, the woman who presented herself to Monica in those dark moments as confessor, with the cold plan to betray her, had been present during the spiritual crisis of another White House loyal, Vince Foster. The spring before he died, Foster was waking up in the middle of the night with anxiety attacks, reading books about ethics, scaring old friends with his grim, trapped demeanor, and, according to Linda Tripp, spending too much time on the Clintons’ personal finances, which he characterized as a “can of worms.” What was the political organization asking ethical uptight Vince to do that he found so objectionable? Huh, Linda?
The thing that surprises my friends about the Lewinsky drama is that the private Mr. Clinton is revealed to be such a bonehead. Bill and Monica, Archie and Veronica. Here’s a guy with a long history of political problems surrounding fucking, who’s being sued over an alleged advance, and yet he (O.K., allegedly) pursues an affair, apparently for 18 months, with a saucy 21-year-old with a big mouth in a nest of interns. Fine if he wants to fuck around, my friends say, but they like the cool poise of a Shelia Lawrence. By what mental calculations is a bubbly, spoiled Natasha a few years older than Chelsea judged a chance worth taking? Is that the kind of judgment we want in a leader?
Once again, look at the political organization. Bill Clinton took crazy chances because he’s always taken them. The Archie-duke of Arkansas long ago learned that he could do what he wanted and tough people would do the dirty work. Big daddy Jim Blair or Bruce Lindsey or James Carville or Hillary Rodham, some grown-up who’d been through wars, would take care of business and the untempered prodigy could keep his face soft for television and his hands soft for the interns’ breasts. Vernon Jordan would take Monica Lewinsky and who knows who else for a ride out to the Meadowlands and Monica would be sure and tell the world she was a stalker.
You can glimpse this organization in the way Bill Clinton likes to fuck. (Just because I don’t think it should be investigated doesn’t mean I don’t like to gossip.) He lacks the Easy Ride spirit of Gary Hart, out there with only a belt buckle in front of him in the American Poke-ahontas of single-girl town houses, boozy boats, thick bushes and the desperate romance or self-deception of believing only two people in the world know about us. No, Bill likes government property, babes on the payroll, guys in uniform outside the door. How many dogs salivate when they hear the word “intern”? Most male bosses cringe, feel their nuts shrivel. Big Bill eases into it. The troopers said he liked them standing on the stairs while he was doing it in the game room, that he borrowed their cars, then visited their office sink to spritz himself so it looked like he’d been jogging (and presumably to do a convincing wash-up, too).
Father figures and heavy petting. Stern mother secretaries to sign the girl in. All these enablers tell you why Bill Clinton isn’t coming out of his corner now, why this could finish him. When he finally has to answer the bell on his own, this big boy has a glass jaw.