The Breakfast Table


Dear Lucianne,

My first thought on seeing the photo of Walter Cronkite and Bill Clinton going for a sail together was, “There are the most-trusted man and the least- trusted man in America, and they’re both in the same boat.”

But on to your letter.

The Michael Kelly quotation you cite (and I appreciate your including it, because he’s not to be found in any of the papers Laura and I receive), and the Maureen Dowd column (we do get the New York Times, and I had already read it with my morning muffin) both get at something real and profoundly troubling about the president’s character. I warned you yesterday that I wasn’t appearing in these pages in the role of Clinton defender. Perhaps today will demonstrate as much.

But neither of those columns supports the notion of a sexual inquisition. Both explore and condemn an attitude toward oneself–a sense of limitless entitlement–and toward other people, which can manifest itself in all sorts of ways, sexuality being only one among many, and not intrinsically or necessarily one. In his novel The Recognitions, William Gaddis quotes Emerson, or claims to (I’ve never been able to locate the source of the quotation). I’ll have to paraphrase, since my copy of the book has gone missing, but it’s something to the effect of, “We must treat other people as if they exist, because, perhaps, they do.” Words to live by. And I don’t get the impression Clinton does. Not, at least, when dealing with individuals, and not when they’re inconvenient.

Nevertheless, caring about how we treat one another, regarding it as a fundamental test of human decency, is a very different thing from setting oneself up as the Carrie Nation of the boudoir, exultantly breaking down doors to expose sexual malfeasance wherever it might exist in order to “change the political direction of this country for all time.” That, Lucianne, I find genuinely frightening.

I’m glad you said it, though, and I’m glad you said it publicly. It explains a lot.