The President's compulsion to get complicated with Monica Lewinsky has prompted another round of embarrassing media defenses of the Clinton marriage. In the eyes of most married Americans, the Clinton union looks like a grisly car accident, and we've been transformed into a nation of rubber neckers, with the media and their pals in White House spin control running around the highway screaming "Look away! This is none of your business!"
But then, strangely, they seem to insist the important thing is the highway itself was undamaged. The liberals would like to assert that marital fidelity has nothing to do with presidential duties - some have gone so far as to claim a quaking, wandering First Libido is a political boon to the nation. But they don't really think the majority of Americans are with them. Deep down, they sense they can get the people to separate the presidential duties from the presidential prowlings, but that doesn't mean the public won't be disgusted by Clinton the man.
Oh, selling the Clinton marriage was so much easier in the early days, when the adultery seemed so conveniently...distant. Beginning his career as a Clinton courtier in 1992, Sidney Blumenthal boldly declared in The New Republic: "While George Bush - all whiteness - talks about 'family values,' the Clintons demonstrate them by confessing to adultery." The press was compliant, ensuring that the issue of infidelity would backfire for the Bush campaign. Typical of this intimidating approach was CNN's Judy Woodruff pushing around Barbara Bush: "U.S. Treasurer, Mrs. Villalpando, who just said yesterday, who joked that Gov. Clinton is a skirt chaser... does that have a place in this campaign?"
The next year, Time White House reporter Margaret Carlson rapturously declared the Clintons so much more loving and carnal than those repressed Bushes. In both Time and Vanity Fair, Carlson set the stage: "Valentine's Day at the Red Sage restaurant. Even at a romantic outing, the President can be the date from hell, talking to everyone but the girl he brung....Finally alone, they have 'painted soup' and the lamb baked in herbed bread. They exchange gifts and touch each other more in two hours than the Bushes did in four years." It just couldn't get better for the Clintons than this: a media demanding their infidelities not be reported while simultaneously gushing over their marital fidelities.
By 1996, the media spin was getting laughable. On September 5 of that year, The Chicago Tribune felt it had to run the following correction: "In her Wednesday Commentary page column, Linda Bowles stated that President Clinton and his former campaign adviser Dick Morris both were 'guilty of callous unfaithfulness to their wives and children.' Neither man has admitted to being or been proven to have been unfaithful. The Tribune regrets the error."
Even now, as a majority of Americans believe the President is clearly lying about sex with a 21-year-old intern, some in the press proclaim that white is black. Here's Gloria Borger in U.S. News: "There is no 'arrangement' about tolerating infidelity. They are passionate about each other, for better and worse. More than one staffer reports being 'embarrassed' when in the room with the first couple as they openly touched each other."
That is simply illogical. There has been repeated infidelity. She has chosen to stay and tolerate it. She is now running the scandal-scuttling effort, and much of the rest of the White House. As for embarrassed staffers seeing open touching between Clintons, they've also seen open verbal warfare, but the media see reporting that as a violation of privacy.
But it gets worse. Newsweek's Karen Breslau and Matt Cooper (cooperative husband of Clinton spin controller Mandy Grunwald) embarrassed themselves with paragraphs of absurdity. After repeating Hillary's mantra that "The only people who count in any marriage are the two that are in it," they proclaim: "There is a simple alchemy to their relationship: she's goofy, flat-out in love with him and he with her. 'They don't kiss. They devour each other,' says one aide. He needs her - for intellectual solace, political guidance and spiritual sustenance." Oh please!
Newsweek isn't done: "Clinton haters and even some supporters wonder whether their marriage will end with the presidency. That seems wildly unlikely. Neither Clinton plans to trade in a public career for shuffleboard. As long as they're in the limelight, their turbulent partnership seems certain to endure - for better or worse. That's because they see themselves in almost Messianic terms, as great leaders who have a mission to fulfill."
Parsing these statements is like parsing Clinton's Monicagate denials. Shame is a commodity in short supply, both on Pennsylvania Avenue and in the nation's newsrooms. After all the lying, they're still goofy, flat-out in love with the Clintons.