SHORTLY before Monica Lewinsky began her White House internship in 1995, I completed a four-month-long internship there. Since news broke last week about allegations of a sexual affair between Ms. Lewinsky and President Clinton, I've intently followed the story, and reflected on my White House memories.
At least one element of the unfolding story seems misleading. In attempting to find clues about Ms. Lewinsky's behavior to determine whether they suggest an affair, the media have reported that sources describe Ms. Lewinsky as ''infatuated'' with the president, ''star struck'' and even ''a stalker.''
Evelyn Lieberman, former White House deputy chief of staff, and other staffers say they recall Ms. Lewinsky as suspiciously enthusiastic about spending time with Mr. Clinton and that she ''hung around'' the West Wing a little too much.
Such accounts suggest Ms. Lewinsky was so pathologically obsessed with Mr. Clinton that it isn't surprising that she had romantic fantasies about him or that, in fact, there was something unusual and unsavory going on between them.
I contend that the description of her behavior could fit any number of young interns. To varying degrees, the vast majority of White House interns and volunteers thrived on their brushes with Mr. Clinton.
When I first arrived at the White House, I recall watching two young male interns surreptitiously climb out of a first-floor window into the Rose Garden and make a beeline to the South Lawn, where they pushed their way through a small crowd of foreign dignitaries to get next to Mr. Clinton; one smiled broadly while the other intern snapped a not-so-candid photo of his pal with the commander in chief.
I witnessed interns stand idle in the corridors, sometimes for more than an hour, shamelessly waiting to catch a glimpse of ''him.'' Some would come early and leave late, thinking that might improve their chances; others only came during likely hours for sightings.
One female intern unstrategically stepped into a closet so that she could ''accidentally'' step out again when Mr. Clinton was passing, only to be reprimanded by the president for hiding in the closet.
While leader worship would occasionally cause intern productivity to wane and result in varying degrees of embarrassment, this ''infatuation'' with the president seemed to create a certain electricity in the air that made working at the White House very fulfilling. It seemed that because so many people were star struck, the administration had a huge pool of hard-working, well-educated people to draw from even for unpaid intern and volunteer jobs.
The devotion ran deep. In the months I was at the White House, the interns didn't publicly question or debate executive policy or presidential integrity. In fact, we rarely discussed politics; rather, we tended to dwell on the stories of how we had bumped into him in the hall or (fortunes of all fortunes) actually got an opportunity to shake his hand.
The chance to tell your friends that you had seen the president jogging or that he had patted you on the shoulder or that you had received a Christmas card from the first family is the stuff that White House intern dreams are made of.
If Monica Lewinsky had not seemed like a star-struck, infatuated stalker who hung around the West Wing every chance she got, then it would be fair to say her behavior in the White House was suspicious.
Dmitri Krushnic, a recent graduate of the University of Chicago, writes from Washington.
Pub Date: 1/29/98