Deconstructing Bill’s Lies

A reader directs Chatterbox to yet another line of argument that Clinton didn’t lie when he asserted to the grand jury that he didn’t have sex with Monica Lewinsky. This one’s from Jeffrey Rosen, the legal affairs reporter for the New Republic, who was a witness before the House Judiciary committee on Nov. 1. Actually, Rosen doesn’t outright say Clinton didn’t lie, but he comes close. Here’s what he told Congress:

“The most serious allegation against the president is that he may have committed perjury before the grand jury when he appears to have contradicted Ms. Lewinsky’s assertion that he touched her breasts and genitals with an intent to gratify her. But the president’s denial was phrased with typically exquisite legalisms: He testified: ‘If you had direct contact with intent to arouse or gratify, that would fall within the definition … You are free to infer that my testimony is that I did not have sexual relations, as I understood this term to be defined.’ It seems absurd, on the one hand, that the only thing standing between the president of the United States and impeachment is his suggestion that he didn’t intend to arouse or gratify Ms. Lewinsky during their encounters. But it would be equally absurd to impeach him on the ground that he committed perjury because he actually intended for her to enjoy herself.”

What Rosen doesn’t say is that all this absurdity stems from Clinton’s fundamental dishonesty under oath. But let’s consider the “Clinton doesn’t care whether his wenches achieve orgasm” argument. It doesn’t strike Chatterbox as a line that’s likely to help Clinton with feminists. (On the other hand, feminists have shown in this case they’re willing to put up with rather a lot.) Does Clinton truly not care? Chatterbox remembers Gennifer Flowers testifying that Clinton was, er, rather considerate as a lover. (The actual quotation, from her Penthouse interview, is too filthy to be reprinted here, but I know at least one woman who believes its circulation just before the election in 1992 helped him lock up the women’s vote.) And remember when Joe Klein, then of Newsweek, wrote his famous “Politics of Promiscuity” piece arguing that Clinton’s professional tendency to want to please everybody was an echo of his bed-hopping private life? At the time, Chatterbox felt the piece was poorly thought out, since promiscuity is about pleasing oneself, not pleasing others. But it was later explained to Chatterbox, plausibly, that the urge to please oneself and the pleasure one gets out of pleasing others are not easy to tease apart.

Anyway, Chatterbox isn’t buying it. The guy lied.

–Timothy Noah