Lewinsky's youth casts different light on this story

January 25, 1998|By MICHAEL OLESKER

When I was Monica Lewinsky's age, I knew a guy who knew another guy who said he was sleeping with Miss February 1964. Who knew if he was telling the truth? It so happened, Miss February worked as a bunny at the Playboy Club on Light Street, so at least the guy had geography supporting his story.

All of us were caught between wanting to believe him and finding it too fantastic for words. To get near Miss February was to enter another league; it was like kissing Marilyn Monroe. Outwardly, we all sneered. What are you gonna tell us next, that John Kennedy was having sex in the White House?

Back in those allegedly innocent times, nobody imagined any president of the United States having sex with his own wife, much less with a variety of backup partners. It was as fantastic as thinking of sex with Miss February. It was just something a young guy would say. You were 21, and the magazine said Miss February worked in Baltimore. Who was gonna check? In the current context, though, we'd all be saying, well, she works on Light Street, so he did have access. And then somebody could check all the entry logs at the Playboy Club.

I've been hoping Monica Lewinsky was having a Playboy moment, a 21-year old's moment, where the late-night gab with a pal gets a little loose, and reality gets embellished, and the next morning you hope nobody remembers the details about all that baloney you were floating the night before.

Because, if she told the truth to her "friend" Linda Tripp about this affair with Bill Clinton, and told the truth about Clinton or his friend Vernon Jordan urging her to lie about it under oath, then it is now finished for this presidency, and Clinton goes down not as the man who wanted to be John Kennedy but as the man who thought he was Hugh Hefner.

The president says there was no affair, but it turns out now he's habitually played fast and loose with the language. The Gennifer Flowers relationship, for example. Six years ago, asking for our votes, Clinton denied her story. Now we're told that, in a deposition, he acknowledged it. Turns out he was only denying a few specific details, reports say.

Then there was the president's interview with PBS' Jim Lehrer and the matter of tense. There "is" no improper relationship with Monica Lewinsky, the president said three different times. But "was" there a relationship? Only in a later interview, seeing that he'd fooled no one, did Clinton throw in a quick "was."

But there's still this sense that he's finessing the language. His denials seemed far more forceful when he said neither he nor Jordan had ever asked Lewinsky to lie under oath. Probably, he did not. Assuming, for the moment, that there was a sexual relationship, what Clinton would surely have said was the thing any married man would say in such a circumstance: "Don't tell anybody."

It's not suborning perjury to simply say, "Remember, this is our little secret." It isn't an impeachable offense. In fact, though, it's far worse. Clinton wasn't saying, Don't tell that mean prosecuting attorney anything. In the context of a 50-year old married man with a young girl, he was saying, Don't tell your

mommy.

At week's end, there was a curious disparity in some national polls. More people were upset at the idea that the president might have lied, or told Monica Lewinsky to lie, than were upset about him having sex with her. After all, we knew this guy's tendencies when we voted for him.

But this time, it's different. This is no Gennifer Flowers, who launched her story in one of the tabloid papers and got paid a bundle for it. This isn't Paula Jones, whose every legal move is being choreographed by right-wing Republican professionals who have been foaming at the mouth since Clinton's first campaign.

This is Monica Lewinsky, a 21-year-old girl when this relationship allegedly occurred.

And Bill Clinton was the most powerful man on earth.

But, because she was a 21-year old girl, she was not only innocent, but also not fully formed. Even now, she is barely beyond the college dormitory, where sex and dating are discussed with all the earnestness (but not necessarily the truthfulness) of nuclear first-strike capabilities and having access somebody famous (Miss February, or Bill Clinton) confers all kinds of fabulous status.

Lewinsky chose to do some of her recent talking with this Linda Tripp, whom she imagined was her friend. Tripp has had a tendency to turn up at the White House at the most remarkable moments. Luckily for Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who has spent several years and more than $30 million trying unsuccessfully to nail Clinton on anything he could find, Tripp turns up with Monica Lewinsky telling her fabulous stories about her sex life. Lewinsky also says, along the way, "I have lied my entire life," but never mind that.

So Starr has Tripp miked. Beautiful, no? After years of investigation, after 30 million wasted dollars, the desperate Starr is reduced to eavesdropping on the intimate conversations of a kid just out of college so he can find out about the sex life of the president and justify all the failed explorations and millions of misspent dollars.

And it could topple an entire government. And we don't know if it really happened, or if Monica Lewinsky was just some kid lying to make herself look glamorous, and then lying again to cover up the first lie.

Which, unfortunately, is the same problem we have with Bill Clinton.

Pub Date: 1/25/98

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