Saving Clinton’s Privates

Now listen up out there, because I am only going to say this once.

I want to make it perfectly clear-right here, right now-that I do not intend to use this space for the purpose of making inappropriate remarks about the President or our First Lady.

That’s right. I’ve said it. You have my word on it.

I will not, for example, ridicule the office of the President by doing a parody of Bill Clinton’s Martha’s Vineyard diary.

I will not have him walking down the gangway of Air Force One on Aug. 18, (the day after his Mea Monica speech), hearing the wildly inappropriate applause, thinking: “Yes! A triumph! A stunning victory! You love me! You love me!” I will not turn him into some kind of Oval Office Sally Field, even as he remembers to execute Harry Thomason’s explicit stage directions: “Put on smile of determination No. 7. Look contrite. Take the First Lady’s hand. When you embrace Carly Simon on the tarmac, no tongue .”

I will not have him waking (alone) the next morning, miffed to learn from the morning papers that “Everybody doesn’t love me!” (Howell Raines is always eloquent, but Maureen Dowd hits the great empathizer where he lives.) I will not have him make a special notation for the National Security Agency to classify Ms. Dowd’s residence-along with Ken Starr’s office-as terrorist operating bases.

I will not have him jot in his diary for Thursday, Aug. 20, that “the

real reason I flew back to Washington to announce our anti-terrorist strikes had nothing to do with trying to raise my sagging poll numbers. The truth was that I’d rather go to war with half the Islamic world than spend another night under the same roof with Hillary, trying to explain why I was still wearing-no, why I still owned-those damned ties Monica sent over.”

Yes, as I said before, I will not resort to this kind of lowbrow humor. I will not sully the Presidency. I know we all want Monica and Ken and this entire sordid investigation behind us as quickly as possible.

Which is why, even though I’ve already mentioned that Bill is apparently still wearing Monica’s fashion-forward neckwear, I will also spare you the column wherein he visits Sigmund Freud to explore this psychopathology. Thus, you will not read the following imagined encounter:

Freud: Welcome to the office. Who did you say referred you?

Clinton: I don’t recall. But everybody raves about you in Hollywood. Did I mention that they love me out there?

Freud: I see. And how do you intend to pay for these sessions? Do you have health coverage?

Clinton: If it wasn’t for the Republicans, we’d all have health coverage-

Freud: You’re in denial.

Clinton: O.K. You’re right. I’m going to pay for this by shaking down Jeffrey Katzenberg at a fund-raiser later this afternoon.

Freud: That’s much better. So what then, precisely, is the nature of your problem?

Clinton: Do you ever watch The X-Files ?

Freud: No.

Clinton: Too bad. Gillian Anderson is so hot-

Freud: So I hear. But I thought the name of this game was Saving Clinton’s Privates. Can we get back to the featured subject?

Clinton: Can you believe Ken Starr thinks I’m sending secret messages to Monica Lewinsky with my neckties?

Freud: Yes.

Clinton: Yes?!?

Freud: He and I are working on some obsessional issues, involving his father and transference. But he agrees with you about Gillian Anderson.

Clinton: Great. I can feel his pain. But do you really think I’d be so reckless, so self-destructive, so brazenly arrogant that I’d continue to wear Monica’s ties in the middle of all this? I mean, what kind of married man still wears his mistresses’ gifts once the affair is over?

Freud: Is that a statement or a question?

Clinton: Yes.

Freud: In that case, let me paraphrase myself here: Sure, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But sometimes a necktie looks an awful lot like a noose.

As I’ve said before, I have no intention of delving into this kind of sarcastic, late-night sketch humor. As I promised earlier, I intend to stick to the high road and refuse to throw mud for the sake of getting a cheap laugh.

I will not wonder whether Eleanor Clift is doing long-term damage to Newsweek -and her own credibility-as she sputters and hyperventilates on the already insanely overtorqued McLaughlin Group each week.

I will not muse whether the best choice for a Clinton historian would be Robert Caro, Walter Isaacson, David Maraniss, or the women’s romance novelist Barbara Cartland.

I will not speculate whether the cover of that book will be graced with an illustration of Mr. Clinton in the Oval Office as a bare-chested White House Fabio, draped with bandoliers and bimbos.

I will not begin to question what kind of extraterrestrial spirit must have taken control of Betty Currie’s mind and forced her to retrieve Bill’s gifts to Monica-especially since Bill swears he made no attempt to obstruct the investigation.

And certainly I will not envision the Edward Albee Who’s Afraid of Bill Clinton scene that must play out in the Vice President’s mansion each evening:

Vice President Al Gore (enters the empty living room. Takes a crystal glass, fills it with three fingers of Maker’s Mark bourbon. He belts it back and moans) : Son of a bitch. If he doesn’t resign, I’m a dead man.

Tipper (enters carrying a can of Tab. Not saying a word, she fills it with bourbon, takes a slug and rolls her head back) : Bastards! They ridiculed me for complaining about rock ‘n’ roll lyrics! But Bubba? You wanna talk about what Bubba has added to the national vocabulary?

Vice President Gore (glancing out the window, forlornly) : I guess this is what it must have been like to be Walter Mondale.

(There’s a pause. Then at once, they both gasp and blurt out the same appalling thought)

Al and Tipper: Jesus. Our daughters! Did we ever leave Bill alone with one of the girls?

Now, yes, I know what you’re thinking: I lied. I went back on my word. I said all the things I said I wasn’t going to say. Sure, I could acknowledge that I misled you. Or acted improperly. Or maybe even admit that I caused you some pain. But what the hell: Ken Starr made me do it.

And now, having put this behind us, let me ask a new question:

In 1974, when everything Richard Nixon said, and did, was suspect-when he had lost the moral authority of his office-Barry Goldwater walked quietly up to the White House and told Mr. Nixon it was time to leave.

Who’s going to be the Barry Goldwater of 1998?

Saving Clinton’s Privates