The Breakfast Table

Testosterone Charged Males

Dear Susan:

Ah, the Big He again.

I had rather hoped that, in keeping with the scrambling of gender roles that keeps life interesting these days, you would have started off with a learned disquisition (a la George Will) on the solemn rhythms of the great game of baseball that have brought us to the historic home-run hysteria now consuming the country. I could then have confessed that, being a busy soccer mom, and having had my fan’s heart broken by the Phillies’ swan-dive in the 1964 pennant race (when you were too young to care), I haven’t the time or interest to follow the fatuous feats of testosterone-charged male maulers of little spheroids.

All true. And yet, I must confess that when I saw the New York Times headline about Mark Whatshisname hitting the magic 70, my sentimental regret for the eclipsing of the great Ruth-who looks rather like a sad-faced Baby Huey to Whatshisname’s muscle-bound Batman-was tinged by a momentary desire to be in awe of Whatshisname. Then I read the first paragraph, in which Mark McGwire (I’ve got that down for now) said: “I’m in awe of myself right now.” That spoiled it for me. Guess I’m old-fashioned.

Then I picked up The Washington Post and found, on page A6, the photo of the day: the Rev. Jesse Jackson standing hand-in-hand (above heads) with two other grinning males, one of whom was identified as “the Rev. Jerry Falwell.” Quickly I raced through the article-which said that Jackson was weighing yet another campaign for the presidency–to find out whether this was some other Rev. Jerry Falwell. But no, it was the one we have all known and loved since long before he helped put out the scurrilous “Clinton Chronicles.” Falwell and Jackson had united in the interest of helping Appalachian mineworkers in some unspecified way (which presumably would not include considering any applications that they might send to prestigious colleges on a colorblind basis).

I’m all for that, but in the politics-makes-strange-bedfellows department, I ask you to guess: Which of these reverends was quoted saying of Bill Clinton in 1992: “I know who he is, what he is. There’s nothing he won’t do. He’s immune to shame. Move past all the nice posturing and get really down in there with him, you find absolutely nothing…nothing but an appetite”?

If you guessed: The same one who was dispatched by the White House this January to volunteer his ministering to presidential secretary Betty Currie, perhaps to rescue her from any temptation to tell Kenneth Starr’s prosecutors the unvarnished facts, while instructing her on Larger Truths; the same one who subsequently accompanied the President and Currie and Bruce Lindsey on a tour through Africa; and who more recently has been seen shuttling between the private-healing-process in the White House family quarters and every TV talk show on which he could publicize his role in that process-you win.

Which brings us back to Big He. A hard subject to avoid, these days. To respond to some of your points: He could, of course, have settled the Paula Jones lawsuit the day before it was filed in May 1994 with some kind of non-apology apology and zero dollars. Instead, he dispatched his taxpayer-paid propagandists to smear her as trailer-trash and to utter such now-proven whoppers as “he was never alone in a hotel with her.” He could have settled it for $750,000 or so and some kind of apology before his deposition. He could have gone into his Jan. 17 deposition and refused on principle (and perhaps on the basis of a Fourth-Amendment privacy right claim) to answer any questions about alleged consensual affairs, and could then have appealed Judge Susan Webber Wright’s order that he answer such questions.

Instead, he did the same thing that he did when Gennifer Flowers showed up in 1992, and when his draft-evasion history started leaking, and when people asked him about pot-smoking, and when he promised a politically popular middle class tax cut, and when he pledged four months ago that he would not allow Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic to commit in Kosovo the kind of atrocities that had been perpetrated in Bosnia: He lied.

He not only lied to the judge, lied to his Cabinet, lied to his aides, lied to the nation, lied to the grand jury, and is lying still. He also lied to his lawyers, it now seems clear. At least, if he didn’t lie to them, they should be disbarred for knowingly sponsoring perjured testimony. And when you say (as is commonly said). “How could his lawyers have ever let him go into that deposition?” I am tempted to remind you that the President was not working for Bob Bennett; Bennett was working for him. Clinton, not Bennett, knew the true facts. Clinton, not Bennett, decided not to offer a settlement that Paula Jones would accept. I know that it is a common conceit to speak in terms of what lawyers “let” their clients do, but I think it an odd one, especially when then client is the most powerful man in the world and a former law professor with a steel-trap mind to boot.

Does the world care? Some of it does. Time will tell whether there are enough of us until-now-Democratic voters who will never vote for any Democrat who rallied to the defense of President Clinton to make a difference. Perhaps the Democratic Party will do fine; perhaps it will follow Clinton to its own destruction. In the meantime, multi-millionaire Hollywood types and legal shakedown-artists like Clinton’s trial-lawyer friends still love him, perhaps because lying is first-nature to many of them too, perhaps because they benefit financially from their association with him. My guess is that the fact that lots of liberal Democratic journalists (and others) in Washington find Clinton’s conduct far more serious than the not-very-trustworthy polls suggest is true of many other Americans and reflects the fact that Washington journalists have paid closer attention to the details, as it is their job to do.

Liberal Democrats did not advocate government by poll and plebiscite when the issues were (say) what the Supreme Court or Congress should do about school segregation, or civil rights legislation, or racial preferences, or abortion, or Miranda rights; why do they advocate it now? Why not wait, at least, until the public has had a chance to absorb the detailed facts and their legal and moral implications through the impeachment process before assuming that transient poll samples represent the popular will?

As to my view of Starr: As I’ve said before, I think his partisan Republican ties made him the wrong person (if only as a matter of appearances) for this job, especially in light of his lack of prosecutorial experience. And I’ve been critical of some serious mistakes that I think he’s made, such as failing to put the pornographic portions of his report into a sealed appendix and failing to quote more conspicuously such exculpatory facts as Monica Lewinsky’s statement that “nobody ever asked me to lie.” I also think House Republicans (and Democrats too) are being too partisan. But on the whole, I think that Starr has been professional in handling a dirty job that-under the Independent Counsel Statute-somebody had to do, in the face of demagogic smears by people like Hillary Rodham Clinton; most of his mistakes warrant criticism not on grounds of any unfairness to the President (I’ve seen little or none of that), but on the ground that Starr has hurt himself, and allowed the Clinton camp to divert attention from the relevant facts, by being blind to appearances.

I really am not very troubled by Starr’s investigative methods. Since I am afraid I’ve gone on too long, why don’t I defer elaborating on why I’m not troubled by Starr’s conduct until you advise me what, exactly, you think should trouble me.

Best, Stuart