The Breakfast Table

The Long March

Dear Lucianne,

But I’m not angry at all. Somewhat astonished, but not even remotely angry. So I guess we can conclude I’m just cute, irrespective of my emotional state.

Anyway, it’s late enough in the day that I’m relieved to see this last note of yours neither requires nor merits a very extensive response.

It’s not a matter of calling you old-fashioned really, let alone antique. You may or may not be those things, but I don’t think that’s the issue between us. It’s more a question of whether Clinton’s sex life is any of our business. And I have no hesitation in saying it isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be (alas, it’s become our business whether we want it to be or not). And the same goes for yours, and mine, and Liddy and Bob Dole’s, and anybody else’s you can think of who doesn’t inflict harm on people or abuse children. It’s simply not one of the things we should expect to know about each other. Whether we’re blameless or not. It’s like religion, it ought to be between each individual and his conscience. You and I might both disapprove of Clinton in this regard, but I suspect we’d disapprove of the sex lives of lots of other powerful people, and powerless ones as well, if we made a concerted effort to get the goods on them. I don’t think we should. I don’t think we have the right to do that, and I also think the practical consequences if we did have such a right would be catastrophic. I have no desire to set myself up as morals czar, and even less desire to see anyone else placed in that position.

Anyway, do you plan to rid the entire government of adulterers and other sexual adventurers? Is Clinton just the first step in a long march? Well, good luck to you. Capitol Hill will look like a ghost town. But reading over this last letter of yours, I get the distinct impression that the whole business may be a personal sexual vendetta you’ve embarked upon. I didn’t think that till now. The thought genuinely never occurred to me. But looking over this latest…”Marriage vows trump the right to commit adultery…God-awful for the moral fabric of this country…some kind of contorted sex…seems just wrong…” It suddenly all seems so personal. Is that what this is about to you? A just punishment meted out to an adulterer whose behavior offends you? Are you prepared to treat every other president, regardless of ideology or party affiliation, the same way? What about Congressmen, Senators, cabinet officers? What about staff? Where does it end?

You’ve obviously never been to an Easter Egg Roll. Believe me–if I may put it like this–that clean-up is no picnic either. But tell me honestly, how seriously do you intend me to take you on this subject? Does the whole issue come down to what’s on a few pieces of Kleenex? Are you really maintaining that the margin of difference between Clinton’s impeachment and his serving out his term depends on whether or not the clean-up was icky for the White House staff? Sorry, I’m finding this hard to credit.

And finally, no, you’re absolutely right, we don’t know each other at all. But precisely for that reason, I try not to attribute attitudes to you until you actually evince them (and God knows you haven’t been shy about evincing them). All I’m asking for on that score is a little reciprocal courtesy. I certainly don’t assume all conservatives agree on all issues; why reduce me to an ideological straw man? In Berkeley, where I’m currently writing, many of my friends and neighbors consider me a conservative. It’s all relative, and more interesting when we’re a tad unpredictable.


Mon., 8/24; Tues., 8/25; Wed., 8/26; Thurs., 8/27; Fri., 8/28