The Breakfast Table


Dear Lucianne,

You tell me I’m changing the subject? I could have sworn the subject was the scandal, which I was quite happy, at your insistence, to address head-on. And I’m willing to continue to do so. But I don’t grant you the right to decide unilaterally which aspects of it are relevant and which constitute changing the subject. Privacy, to me, is a crucial component, right at the heart of it. But so are several other matters, some of which are quite damaging to Clinton. And I’m happy to discuss those too. I’m not, you know, appearing here in the role of Clinton defender. I’m confident that will become patently obvious as the week progresses. Now, I’m going to address the subjects you raise in your last letter point by point, even though doing so “makes my hair hurt,” as Don Imus says. (See? I do listen to him, quite regularly in fact. Perhaps some of these assumptions of yours could do with a bit of re-examination.) It’s not so much that I take all your arguments equally seriously, but God forbid you should accuse me of changing the subject again.


You mention some privacy gripes. If you can actually prove that your divorce records, sealed by court order, were illegally obtained by Clinton’s operatives at his direct command, then that’s indefensible and probably grounds for impeachment. Can you, though? If you can, then send me the evidence and a petition and I’ll sign the latter.

You next have something about Linda Tripp’s personnel files and “high-minded elitists” at The New Yorker, but I can’t respond to it very cogently since I fail to see what you’re getting at. Some VLWC, perhaps? Who precisely are you accusing, and of what, and on what evidence? For the record, I’m prepared to state categorically that secret files, if they have to exist at all, should stay secret, and further, that some people at The New Yorker aren’t nearly so elite as they think they are. Hell, most of them couldn’t get into Bohemian Grove if their lives depended on it!

How seriously do you really take this business about the scandal’s occurring on tax payer’s time, etc.? (Actually, I believe Monica was a volunteer back then, and the president, as you know, doesn’t punch a time clock, so the point may be moot anyway.) I’m sorry, Lucianne, but despite this plaintive paragraph of yours, it seems to me the issue remains sex, not theft. If the stewards clean up after a party or the Easter Egg Roll, say, or even a really sloppy lunch, I doubt you’d regard their having to do so as an abuse of their positions. If the president calls a relative or friend on his government phone–and I assume he does it all the time–I don’t believe you’d regard it as villainous. If government lawyers defend the president in litigation, well, that’s one of the reasons they’re there, I assume. So what bothers you, obviously, is the fact that these things occurred in conjunction with illicit sex. And I’m not necessarily saying your position is indefensible. But let’s be honest about what that position is.

Next came something about Geraldo Rivera’s broadcast. And an oozing tube, if memory serves. Ah well, as long as it’s clear we’re not changing the subject, that’s a perfectly legitimate point, germane and irrefutable. Is it intended to be more evidence of that pesky VLWC? Hard to tell. If so, I’m not persuaded.

And last: I used the term “outing” loosely, to mean revealing another person’s sexual history or practices against his or her will. Surely in context that was clear enough. And yes, if we use the word in that sense, I can think of many examples of straights being outed.

I think, Lucianne, if you’re going to write to me, you really ought to write to me, not to…well, not to some VLWC. If such a thing exists, I’m not a member. I wasn’t invited to join, and would have declined had the honor been offered. Neither am I a Clinton apologist. I believe many of the specifics of this scandal are thoroughly distasteful and say very distressing things about the character of the man. But I also think he’s been a pretty effective president, and I think the way the investigation has been conducted should alarm every American. In other words, like a majority of the country, I’m terribly conflicted right now, trying to find a way to balance a variety of facts and values which are pulling uncomfortably in various directions.

My instincts tell me it isn’t a very good time to be filled with certainty.

Well, I had other things I’d hoped to talk about today, non-political things as it happens–Martin Amis’ moving lecture on Lolita, which aired on C-Span the other evening, and John Eliot Gardiner’s extraordinary recordings of the Schumann symphonies–both of which might serve to remind us that some things are significant and lasting, whereas much that demands our attention is flyweight ephemera. But we were obviously going to go at this Clinton stuff sooner or later, and so maybe it’s just as well the issue’s been joined.