Group Therapy on the Vineyard

Chatterbox suspects that downtrodden Clinton acolytes are brooding, “Why did the president make his public confession in August when my shrink is on vacation?” This is not, of course, to suggest that anyone who believed Clinton’s story until the bitter end automatically needs professional help. But few news accounts have conveyed the full extent of the raw emotional anguish among Clinton loyalists. Those here on Martha’s Vineyard are engaging in marathon soul-searching conversations with each other than one participant likened to “group therapy.”

What’s surprising is how many members of the Clinton inner circle doggedly clung to the fantasy that there was a germ of truth in the president’s original denials. Clinton, like Mandrake the Magician, clearly possesses the power to cloud men’s (and women’s) minds. Maybe it’s different when the president looks in your eyes and lies, rather than merely watching him do it on TV. But this omnipresent sense of personal betrayal is so palpable and sad that it’s akin to watching children learn that there is no Santa Claus.

Even as cynics freely speculate otherwise, Chatterbox has come to believe that Hillary herself was truly among the last to come to grips with the truth. Her ire is so close to the surface right now that it would have been near impossible for her to maintain her unflappable public veneer for the last seven months if she had not been in total denial about her errant husband.

With TV requests already pouring in, Hillary will soon have to decide who snags the first sad-eyed “I love him in spite of it all” prime-time interview. Diane? Barbara? The guys from 60 Minutes? Chatterbox has a suggestion: If the first lady wants a sensitive forum to tell her story, she should ignore conventional TV venues and sit down for a C-Span chat with Brian Lamb. There certainly would be no excessively intrusive or mawkish questions–and the desperate networks would run long interview extracts in prime time.

One detail particularly sticks in the craw of Clinton devotees. And that is the news that the president hinted at the truth in a phone conversation with noted sex-scandal expert Dick Morris back in January. Talk about two guys serving as each other’s enabler. What Chatterbox loves in Morris’ account in the New York Post is how quickly the two men decided that the wisest strategy as the Lewinsky saga hit the headlines was to, yes, take a poll. Confession and forgiveness, as Morris claims his poll discovered, was not a viable political option, which may have helped inspire the president’s seven-month coverup.

If only the president had originally been blessed with good sense to commission a poll on Monica before he reached for his zipper.

Walter Shapiro