The Book Club

Lying Cads

Dear Brent:

Ah. We inch closer and closer. But the devil is in the nuances. Point by point:

1. Thirty-three percent agreed. Bill Clinton is a lying cad. But while he may have an appetite for pathological sex, I’m not sure it’s fair to say he has a “pathological sexual appetite.” On the evidence in the public record, over a sixteen month period from November 1995 through March 1997, the man had no more than ten real sexual encounters with Monica. And during only two of them–not counting what he may have done alone in Nancy Hernreich’s office or Bayani Nelvis’s pantry sink–did the president enjoy “completion.” Not sure what your “guys in the bar” would find terribly enviable about that.

Also, I think you’re wrong about what you’d have done, were you the president, once you were discovered. If you were the president, you’d have been a lying cad, remember? So you’d have caddishly lied. Which is what he did.

2. Lewinsky seems to be (or then to have been) a needy, dopey, slutty, hopelessly naive and unusually graspy young woman. But don’t you feel the teeniest bit sorry for her? Bizarrely enough, the president accepted her initial, baboon-like invitation–and for that she now has to live the next 50 years as the most notorious woman in American history. Half agreed. The score would be a tad higher on this one, but you wrecked it for me with that “heroine Joan Didion” business.

3. Seventy-five percent agreed, with an asterisk. Linda Tripp is an unattractive personality. That said, I do discern a half-compelling, not entirely paranoiac logic in her belief that she had to act as she did in order to protect herself from legal exposure and career damage. The asterisk is: I don’t think the quality of Linda Tripp’s character is even remotely relevant to a judgment on Bill Clinton’s fitness for office. I’m guessing you do.

4. Oops. Foul ball. I have no idea which particular questionable strategies you’re charging to Ken Starr, beyond your vague hint of “entrapment.” I know which particular “questionable strategies” the White House and David Kendall have charged to Starr. Those charges are unmitigated bullshit. But since you here decline to detail them in your own voice, I here decline to rebut them in mine. So there.

“Moralist under the bed” and “aspiring dirty book writer” are know-nothing, impressionistic, nyah-nyah sneers better suited to a phone-it-in New Yorker novelists’ symposium than to a just-the-facts Times man. You can do better, Brent. On the danger Starr presents “to privacy generally”: You yourself finally acknowledge that no Second Inquisition is heralded. On the rights commonly accorded “Dave” and Brent: “Dave” or Brent would be in the hoosegow now had either of us done what Clinton did. About public opinion on Starr (and other sorts of public opinion), see points 5 through 7, below.

Tell-Staples Starr Synchronicity Index: zero. We’ll get ‘em next time.

5 and 6. Fifty percent agreed, plus or minus fifty percent. Hallelulah! In the world according to Brent, presidential perjury is a justified impeachment count, after all–provided it is “found.”And since it has been “found” (right?), Bill Clinton must be presumptively impeachable. Seems the only thing preventing you from proceeding to conviction is your desire that The People “have faith” in this finding. Here we slightly diverge. The Constitution, in my view, lodges responsibility for such decisions with the legislature, not with the Gallup Poll.

But granting your interpretation, just for the sake of argument: As a card-carrying editorial writer, you would surely feel compelled at this point to persuade The People to your view that Clinton must go.

7. Which is what Bennett’s book tries to do. You don’t like his tone. We’ve been savaging each other over Bill Bennett’s tone? Oh.

All in all, I figure we’ve made admirable progress and I feel good about it. Next time, wanna talk about affirmative action? Or abortion?