Vineyard Gossip

Let others cover wars and famine. Chatterbox has taken on a true hardship assignment–dining out every night to collect the latest Vineyard gossip and dish. Take a gander:

Call Waiting: Whenever Clintonites gather these days, one of the first questions they ask each other is “How many times did Gail Sheehy call you today?” Sheehy, the best-selling expert on mid-life crises, has been on the island for a week working on another Vanity Fair psychological profile of Hillary Clinton. Maybe her desperation was fueled by her far from lavish $99-a-night accommodations at the Katama Shores Inn (she checked out Tuesday) or maybe she’s just a more dogged reporter than Chatterbox, but Sheehy has been phoning rightfully reluctant members of Team Hillary as often as 10 times a day. Chatterbox hears that Sheehy’s purported big scoop is that the president didn’t tell his wife the truth about Madcap Monica until 30 minutes before he went on TV. Modesty prevents Chatterbox from mentioning that he reported last week on Hillary’s hidebound refusal to face up to the realities of her errant husband.

Ketch 22: Did you see the jaunty nautical pictures of Walter Cronkite entertaining a carefree Bill Clinton aboard the former anchorman’s ketch? What a perfect balance of yin and yang: The “most trusted man” in America and the least. Chatterbox recalls that last summer Clinton went sailing with Ted Kennedy, not exactly the companion the imagemakers would recommend for a president desperate to divert attention from a sex scandal.

Fair Weather Friends: What continues to amaze Chatterbox is how quickly elite opinion here has turned against the president. A typical Vineyard dinner party now begins with gleeful discussions of a scurrilous Matt Drudge report claiming that Monica found entertaining uses for the president’s cigar. In the Clinton White House, the war against tobacco takes you to some strange and unusual places. (Given Drudge’s legendary tussles with accuracy, Chatterbox wants to stress that, according to a euphemism-filled Howie Kurtz story this morning, “The Washington Post has not confirmed the allegation.”) Equally comic in Vineyard circles are the fast-dwindling band of presidential flatterers. One well-known Clinton fan actually told the president that his maladroit mea culpa was “brilliant.”

Chatterbox Explains It All: Sycophants aside, why are so many of Clinton’s purported friends now writing him off? For seven months, the Clinton faithful regarded the White House stonewalling tactics with the same awe that the French once had for the Maginot Line. No matter how persuasive the charges against the president, loyal Democrats assumed that Clinton would artfully explain them away as soon as he went on television. But then came the Clinton speech that had all the persuasive power of Ishtar. Suddenly, Ken Starr had, in effect, flanked the Maginot Line, and was fast on the road to Paris. What we are witnessing now is something analogous to the defeatism that gripped the French Army in 1940. All the fervent talk of a congressional censure resolution is akin to the Allies offering Hitler Belgium if only he’d stop there. But why should Starr and the Republicans accept a cease fire offer when they are beginning to believe that total victory is in their grasp?

Worcester or Bust: Thursday, Hurricane Bonnie permitting, Clinton will venture off-island to explore the scenic wonders of Worcester, Mass. As White House spokesman Barry Toiv explained, “The president will talk about the issue of school safety.” Chatterbox’s prediction: Clinton will take a bold stand for safety and against violence. But this Worcester wingding, designed in Toiv’s words “to highlight the President’s agenda in Congress,” is a classic example of how the Clinton plays three-card monte with policy issues. With the president sure to tearfully deplore school shootings, few will notice that Clinton’s favored remedy has absolutely nothing to do with the problem. The president will be talking about the tiny Police Corps program that provides college scholarships for careers in law enforcement. The tenuous logical connection between these scholarships and school violence is the kind of rhetorical sleight-of-hand that Clinton, even in good times, confuses with governing.

Chatterbox Admits Mistakes Were Made: Last week, in an uncharacteristic fall from grace, Chatterbox stated that Mandrake the Magician possesses “the power to cloud men’s minds.” While that claim may have been legally accurate, four alert readers have pointed out that Lamont Cranston, aka The Shadow, is most commonly associated with that mental feat. Mandrake merely “gestures hypnotically,” a tactic that Chatterbox has tried with limited success with waiters in pricey restaurants.

Chatterbox knows that his five-day public silence about this matter gave a false impression. He misled people. Including his own wife. Chatterbox deeply regrets that. And now intends to put this minor lapse behind him.

Walter Shapiro