Come now, let us talk about the erections of famous men. It’s pertinent to do so because the question before the house is, what is the Smithsonian going to do for artifacts depicting the high points of the Clinton Administration? There is the dress, of course, which could be exhibited with the collection of First Lady inaugural ball gowns, but while that might give us some of the flavor of these times in Washington, something more may be needed.
Perhaps it’s time to revisit, as the lawyers say, the Plaster Casters. For those too young or too chaste to know of them, these twin sisters achieved a degree of notoriety about 30 years ago by talking famous men into allowing them to make plaster molds of their erections. The resulting artwork might be said to resemble one pylon attached to two spheres. Whether or not the good sisters are still plying their trade I can’t say, but, if they’re not, perhaps we can coax them out of retirement. Assuming Jesse Helms would approve, we might offer them a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
It’s the kind of project that has made the N.E.A. famous, although the law governing the agency’s gift-giving says it must be done “taking into consideration general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public.” So what’s the problem? We’re not talking Karen Finley, we’re talking Bill Clinton, el Presidente el mismo . If the President does it, it axiomatically conforms to general standards, doesn’t it?
Ever since the I-hate-Ken-Starr-and-gee-gosh-did-I-pull-a-boner? speech, there has been some chafing at Mr. C.’s splitting pubic hairs when answering questions on the topic. Specifically, he said he didn’t have sex, which is defined by the lawyers as:
“(I) contact with the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person;
“(II) contact between any part of the person’s body or an object and the genitals or anus of another person; or
“(III) contact between the genitals or anus of the person and any part of another person’s body. ‘Contact’ means intentional touching, either directly or through clothing.”
So where therein does it say mouth? It doesn’t say mouth, so he didn’t do it. Put in another way, what he was actually saying was “Read my lips: I didn’t inhale and she didn’t swallow.”
Mighty Bill’s defenders and detractors both call on history to condemn him or get him off. Look at other Presidents. Start with George Washington who, Parson Weems tells us, never told a lie. Yes, he chopped down the cherry tree, but he fessed up when his father questioned him about it. In a similar situation, Bill would not have chopped down the tree but merely confined himself to plucking the cherries.
The Friends of Bill are quick with the other-guys-did-it-too argument, so comparisons to Warren Harding and Franklin Roosevelt abound. The difference is they were smart enough or humble enough to keep their private parts private. Bill makes his privates public, even while grousing about invasions of his privacy. The guy’s a flasher, complaining about people gawking at him. Hey, buddy, put on some clothes under the raincoat and you won’t have a problem.
Either he’s an exhibitionist or he wants us to know that in his case special rules apply. The guy got nailed in 1992 when the Gennifer Flowers business erupted, but he did his Comeback Kid act and got away with it. A humbler man might have learned from his close call to take his pleasures from his wife from there on in, but Billy Goat Bill had to pull a Gary Hart. Try and catch me if you can, seemed to be his attitude. Or maybe it was a simple: If you catch me, what are you going to do about it? We have one arrogant puppy on our hands here. For all we know, he had a new intern under the desk while he was reading that little speech of his before he took off for Martha’s Vineyard for two weeks of family healing and whoop-de-do with the rich and infamous.
They also liken him to John Kennedy. Whether or not Kennedy may have been as full of himself as the Billy Goat, he had the humility and the smarts to keep it secret. Even Ben Bradlee, one of his closer friends, a guy who lived next door to Kennedy in the years just before his elevation to the Presidency, hadn’t an inkling about J.F.K.’s hobby. Now we know that Kennedy used pros, hookers, girls who were trained to keep their mouths closed, except, naturally, when at work.
How does the Goat measure up against Jimmy Carter? Mr. Carter said that he had lust in his heart, which is assuredly not the organ where Mr. Clinton’s lust resides.
Most of all, people are looking at the similarities between the present dust-up and Richard Nixon. Out on the Internet, that font of wisdom, the topic has been exhaustively dealt with:
Nixon: His biggest fear-the Cold War
Clinton: His biggest fear-a Cold Sore
Nixon: Worried about carpet bombs
Clinton: Worried about carpet burns
Nixon: His Vice President was a Greek
Clinton: His Vice President is a geek
Nixon: Couldn’t stop Kissinger
Clinton: Couldn’t stop kissing her
Nixon: Couldn’t explain the 18-minute gap in the Watergate tape
Clinton: Couldn’t explain the 36-DD bra in his briefcase
Nixon: His nickname was Tricky Dick
Some people blame Ken Starr and the right-wing conspiracy for the scandal. It was entrapment, they say. There may be something to that. Rumor has it that Mr. Starr’s subordinates have been recruiting fashion models and starlets and sending them into the White House to be interns. Clintonites say that people still hold their leader’s draft-dodging against him, although without ever being in the service he’s managed a dishonorable discharge.
What’s to be done now? Sentiment for impeachment appears to be weak, so that puts the ball in Hillary Clinton’s court. It’s in her power to mete out a condign punishment by telling Mr. Clinton, “Pack your bags and move out.” She could live in the White House by herself under the terms of divorce, and he could shack up across the street at the Hay-Adams hotel with Buddy (she gets to keep Socks), who would be allowed to return to the White House lawn for Frisbee sessions.
And what about his legacy to the nation? His place in history? John Dean suggested that Nixon left a cancer on the Presidency. Mr. Clinton will leave a stain on a dress. The people who appear on those talky television programs claim that Mr. Clinton thinks about his legacy during whatever part of the day he has free after taking care of his primal drives. Of course, he will be best remembered for lifting up the level of public discourse and for encouraging a new refinement in the way we speak and write. But surely there will be more, as he carefully crafts his memoirs after leaving the White House and moving to a Home for Retired Semen.