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Head Over Heels

The shabby history of the United States in the last year can be laid at the door of three unsavory citizens. President Clinton: shallow, reckless, a blushing trimmer; Monica Lewinsky, aggressive, rouge-lipped exhibitionist; Judge Kenneth Starr, pale, obsessive Pharisee. There was collusion among back-country elected ayatollahs stoning the adulterers in the public square while intoning the satanic verses of the Constitution. And washed up on the banks of the Potomac, the burrowing otters, Linda Tripp and Lucianne Goldberg.

Humiliation, resonant, aching word, near to the sacred, fell at its worst upon the nation as a whole, as a conception, a nation among nations, enlightened despite the wish of some for a premillennial accounting in the wings. Humiliation has at the first dawn fled from Monica Lewinsky; with Judge Starr, many a stumbling perceived, with many to catch his arm before a fall; Clinton, the president, not a sports announcer or a political “adviser” set up for exposure in a Washington hotel, for him the awful moment, or moments, of surrender; the bad dream, to follow him to the grave, of being nude in the streets. Or to lower the tone in an obscurely derived current idiom: He’s toast.

Move on, move on, friends and enemies say. Put the nation in a Santini Van, wrap its underwear in brown paper, and, horn honking, move on. That’s the word for a country of road hogs, for the proper business of the state, for that woman, Miss Lewinsky, for Judge Starr, who seems to threaten to stand in place, still tapping away.

The sad, sad sin of location. As the reigning Head of State, a celebrity with his Marine band and honor guard, he has certain restrictions based upon his high, none higher, recognition factor. So it cannot be a Rooms-by-the-Day Motel, but the Oval Office of the White House, its bathroom or some private corner, whatever, wherever. The President has his oddities of practice coming forth to us from his partner and other deponents going back through the years. Looking over his Police Gazette profile, starting in Arkansas, we can say he is having bad luck due to the Zeitgeist, the historical moment for girls, or women. Previously they were somewhat restrained by self-protection, by not wanting mother, family, children, or job supervisor to know what was going on in the back seat of the car, in the after-hours office. Now there is the book, the lawsuit, the settlement, the chance to join the others on file which gives a jog to old unhealthy memories.

We are told that Monica Lewinsky early on, after her belief that the President had in a crowd cast lustful eye-beams her way, went home to read Gennifer Flowers’s memoir called Sleeping with the President.1 Monica’s bleak “sensual” engagement to come will in no way match Miss Flowers’s hot twelve-year affair, albeit off and on, with the Attorney General of Arkansas and later the Governor of the state. She was much better housed for action, with her own flat in Little Rock, and later her rooms in Fort Worth. “So there I was, head-over-heels in love with the married attorney general of Arkansas. And there he was, head-over-heels in love with me.” The author meets the often encountered measly aspect of words when hoping to describe sexual transport, but she makes her own strenuous effort in passage after passage, of which the following is the cleanest, we might say. “We continued to make love for several more hours, as Bill demonstrated more sexual libido than I have ever seen in a man. I’m not sure how many times he came, but he seemed to be inexhaustible. I remember thinking this is the kind of drive a man needs to become president of the United States.”

There were reassuring polls for the President as the dismaying revelations, depositions, false oaths, and actual impeachment by the House of Representatives fell upon his head, brick after brick. No matter, he seemed to get back up as mysteriously as those creatures flattened in a comic strip. Throughout the pummeling his performance as president was approved by the public. This was due, we heard, to the good economy, more jobs than job-seekers, a little bump of a few cents in the minimum wage, the affection of the black population for the sense he gave of at least knowing they were around. Oh, Captain! My Captain! Rise up and hear the bells. And then for some, he’s kinda cute.2

In addition to the charges of perjury, the prosecutors and the Managers in the House of Representatives seemed to want to rebuke the State of the Marriage Union. (What may have been on Legislator Livingston’s plate that led the poor fellow to resign under threat of exposure of violations of his marriage vows, to run into the woods as if there were a posse on his heels—it is altogether pleasant that thus far the public has been spared inside information.)

Weary yawns from the hinterland may partly have arisen from knowledge of Life: Life Science, as the extension courses name it. Philandering husband held in the family pen by the mortgage, the “kids,” debts, in-laws, neighbors, affections, familiarities, fatigue. For the working class, there is nothing to be gained by going public, telling your story, giving the real lowdown on him when nobody knows who he is. The truck-stop waitress who has caught the attention of the tired trucker, attention for a time until he doesn’t show up again. Well, she can overstep, call his home, serious offense, tell the wife all about it. Shut up, bitch, the wife says, and returns to the patio where he is putting a match to the charcoal. Where is the outrage? A good people should be displaying more outrage about everything, so the prompting Mr. William Bennett insists in mournful cadence.

It appears that men are men, DNA. Even the abstemious Prosecutor Starr seemed to have an inkling of this and thus ordained that his desired impeachment of the President should not be about sex. The dread business at hand was lying under oath about sex when summoned to the courts. True, the President’s prevaricating affidavit in the Paula Jones case might have passed as an unfortunate deception. Still and yet, addressing the world on television, solemn as a rogue in a Molière comedy, and denying that he had ever had sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky: that is a haunting bit of dramaturgy.

Lying under oath. In the courtrooms, a ringing Not Guilty plea is not always taken literally. It often says: Prove me guilty if you can and meet my defense attorney here by my side.

Courtroom scene, imaginary:

Did your wife threaten you with a gun?

Yes, Sir, she did.

Did you then in self-defense take the gun from her?

That is correct.

The gun went off and your wife was accidentally shot and killed. Is that your testimony?

Yes, Sir, it is.

Verdict: Murder in the First Degree.

The wanton licentiousness of the questioning of Monica Lewinsky by the Independent Counsel’s Office made this a most interesting, vivid presidential scandal to rest in all its skulking, panting eternity in the basement of the Library of Congress. The detail so rich, so concrete, a riveting pornography elicited with a bug-eyed tenacity, a prosecutorial relishing in passing beyond the intention to establish that sex had indeed taken place between the two in the White House. Many, indeed most, of the legislators voiced one after another a concern not only for themselves but for the corruption of our children and grandchildren. The unborn innocents got a lot: nine instances of oral sex, the responses of the performers, extravagant documentation of completions or what appear to be withdrawals; what rewards, if any, for the performing female, and how achieved, the interesting possibilities of the telephone as an instrument of excitation.

Did the President ever use a cigar in a sexual way? Did he touch her on the breast or in the genital area? Was it through her clothes or in direct contact with the skin? Had the President masturbated her when he put his hand down her trousers?

As this speculation dragged on about Monica Lewinsky, the sole witness, it was feared that in the minds of some of the old-fashioned, largely Christian folk waiting in the House of Representatives she might be what their generation called a fast number. A certain sanitizing of her image began in the Independent Counsel chambers. After the voluble and valuable tape recording of her tone and practice by her friend, Linda Tripp, it was prudent to shift the accent lest it veer away from the central figure, the President. The predatory groupie of the tapes became the “young intern,” a sort of medieval page at court and above all young, which she was and is.

Monica’s Story, by Andrew Morton. A vertiginous accounting of bantering baby talk mixed with her extraordinary bordello reminiscences. She it is who proudly wears the bright red A on her bosom but it is he who “will not speak.” When at last Clinton is forced, or thinks he is forced, to address the nation and admit that his denial of the sex affair was false and that what he did was “wrong” and “inappropriate,” Monica, listening, was, as ever, Niobe, all tears. She had wanted him to say that what he did he did for love and so what was this stuff about wrong and inappropriate? “I was very hurt and angered by his speech. I felt like a piece of trash.” He should have acknowledged her worth, her suffering, and that of her family.

Her story has a pleasant beginning. Mr. Morton is chatting with Monica Lewinsky in a “smart apartment building in Beverly Hills.” She’s free and on the television screen Kenneth Starr is giving his twelve-hour testimony in the impeachment trial of the President. Monica is knitting, worrying “about changing to smaller needles to make her scarf less bulky.” Soon he reports that his subject has a “remarkable capacity to remember times, places and dates with precision and accuracy.” To the point since this is her story. She is poised, articulate; she is also suffering from low self-esteem. She is demure and polite, “a far cry from the brassy Beverly Hills babe of media mythology.”

She has a weight problem. We learn about her family, her high school days, her parents’ divorce. At Beverly Hills High School drama department she met up with a big moment, one Andy Bleiler, and then, and then, when she was nineteen she lost her virginity to him who had in the meantime married. He tells her he’s moving to Portland, Oregon, and she transfers from Santa Monica College to Lewis and Clark College, in Portland. The affair with Bleiler continued, off and on, for five years, “a time she remembers with a mixture of tenderness, sorrow, anger and bitterness.” He’s unfaithful to her and to his wife as well. It’s a mess.

  1. 1

    Sleeping with the President: My Intimate Years with Bill Clinton (Anonymous Press, 1998).

  2. 2

    One wit wrote that perhaps Jews liked Clinton because in high school instead of going out for the football team he signed up for the band. (Philip Weiss, The New York Observer, March 15, 1999.)

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