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'Primary Colors': Libido and Leadership

It's understandable to presume that the movie "Primary Colors" is a $65 million pro-Clinton suckup, even a whitewash on the level of "The Man from Hope" - that treacle the Bloodworth-Thomasons crafted for the 1992 Democratic Convention.

Don't believe it. Except for the brief closing scene, the action in the film takes place within a six-month time period (fall '91 to spring '92 in real life). During that time, the Bill Clintonesque Gov. Jack Stanton has a quickie with a woman he's just met on a campaign stop and later faces exposure for two more liaisons, one with the Gennifer Flowers-like character, the other with a 17-year-old baby-sitter.

Three extramarital flings in half a year qualifies as promiscuity under any reasonable definition. If Stanton is Clinton - and no one is arguing that he isn't, essentially - then Clinton was every bit the loutish philanderer that plenty of conservatives figured him for back then and that plenty of liberals denied, and some still deny, he ever was.

But this is Hollywood, an industry where, according to surveys, a majority find nothing wrong with adultery. And many of those involved with "Primary Colors" apparently feel they have a more sophisticated understanding of human sexuality than do their brethren. Their position is that Clinton/Stanton played (and plays) around, and so what? In fact, they are suggesting, it'd be worrisome if he didn't.

The movie's director, Mike Nichols, has been especially voluble on this point. As he told The Washington Post: "If this century has taught us anything, it's that sexuality is uncontrollable. ... We expect it to be tailored, controlled, changed ... like a pet cat. But it's not going to happen." (I would have enjoyed being a fly on the wall if and when Nichols' wife, ABC newswoman Diane Sawyer, read that.) "So our charismatic men with high energy ... are beginning to say: 'The hell with this! I'm not going to get in a position where I'll be torn to bits every time I look at a female walking by.'" (As if that were Clinton's problem.)

Nichols went on: "We have to rethink things. ... I wonder if this need to deal with people who are doing complex jobs only in terms of scandal isn't really about something else. We're still dealing with leftovers from our Puritan past. But something is changing. ... Society is about to shift into another gear." And among those driving will be the highly evolved Mike Nichols.

The director was even more blunt with Time: "We've often thought about our leaders, 'He's a great man, and he has a real gift with people - too bad he can't keep his d-k in his pants.' But the very gift that makes him a great leader is the same thing that keeps him jumping on a lot of women."

At lesser length, several "Primary Colors" stars have sounded off as well:

- John Travolta, who plays Stanton, remarked to Entertainment Weekly: "I don't really care about his personal life, unless it were to affect his decisions - which this clearly hasn't. ... I think he's been one of the best presidents we've ever had."

- Emma Thompson, who plays Susan Stanton (i.e., Hillary Clinton) told The New York Times that "powerful, brilliant women have been married to powerful, philandering men for hundreds of years. ... You marry an alpha male - that's what happens. ... This almost seems natural. For any guy in power - it's a very erotic situation." (By the way, to put Ms. Thompson's values in proper perspective, in 1993, she told Us magazine that you shouldn't get married "until you have (had sex with) everything with a pulse." Alpha males, presumably, may indulge even after marriage.)

- Billy Bob Thornton, who plays Richard Jemmons (i.e., James Carville), mused to CNN, "Gosh, I wouldn't care if the president had been involved in bestiality if he runs the country right." That sounds comical in a grotesque sort of way, but it's the reductio ad absurdum of this line of thinking.

Since JFK's randiness wasn't public knowledge while he was in office, there aren't any juicy soundbites from 1962 in which a member of the Rat Pack defends the chief executive's lifestyle. The closest forerunner to the above comments may be musician Don Henley's 1989 lament for the career of playboy Gary Hart: "From Thomas Jefferson to FDR to Eisenhower to Kennedy, (adultery is) a long tradition. ... The personality profile of great and powerful leaders includes that sort of behavior! So what do you want? Do you want some perfect android to run this country?"

Actually, what this country has always demanded is a person of character, not simply a character in the office of the presidency. That rules out Bill Clinton. But if you're looking for someone to emulate the values of Hollywood, I guess the man does make for a pretty darn good role model.