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If the starr report were a novel, work of history, subject of moral philosophy, psychiatric case study or soap opera, WHAT KIND OF FOOTPRINT WOULD IT LEAVE?

September 27, 1998|By Craig Nova | Craig Nova,SPECIAL TO THE SUN @ Work of History Via legal sorcery, the witch hunt proceeds apace. But the slope is slippery indeed. SPECIAL TO THE SUN Moral Philosophy Among other lessons, it's clear that intelligence and inability to feel guilt are a dangerous pair. SPECIAL TO THE SUN Psychiatric Study Before the punishment, we must understand the nature of the behavior. SPECIAL TO THE SUN Soap Opera Starr-crossed lovers find only heartbreak in a town filled with dark secrets. SPECIAL TO THE SUN Pub Date: 9/27/98

Now fate enters the picture. What form does it take? Someone innocent, loving, sophomorically ambitious? At once attractive because she can be controlled and yet having the youth that the man of this tale can only remember as misery and work and the attempt to obscure? It is a dance after this between character and fate: We have the sensation that the future has already been written.

Fate brings tragedy. Hegel says that the tragic character is one who acknowledges only one of the many bonds between himself and his family, the society he lives in, or a moral code.

In this case, it is obvious that all will be abandoned to the pursuit of power. Power is life's blood now. Without it our hero will be doomed, and he knows it. But, by hanging onto it, doom waits in the wings, too: Those bonds that have been ruptured produce vengeance. Truth, so long denied, makes itself apparent at last, just as we always suspected it would. After all, isn't that the nature of justice?

At the end of this tale, which, of course, must be made into a movie, what do we see? Is there some word or phrase that suggests the lost thing, the item that one has been trying to reclaim? Rose? What did he say? Rosebud? And what is that, thrown into the flames? Is it a sled? And what is the name on it after all?

Craig Nova is the author of nine novels, including "The Good Son," "Tornado Alley" and most recently "The Universal Donor," which Norton is publishing in paperback this month. His work has been translated into nine languages. He has received many prizes and awards, including an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He is currently at work on a new book and on a screen adaptation of "The Good Son."

At the outset of this tumultuous year, there was every indication that Kenneth Starr's inscrutable probe of Bill Clinton's multitude of alleged crimes would soon grind to a merciful close in much the same inconclusive way as most of the two dozen or so previous special-prosecutor investigations had done in the 20 years since this legal Frankenstein monster came into being.

Through an endless series of blunders, Starr had shown himself to be a comically inept Inspector Clouseau who could solve a case only if dumb luck came to his rescue.

All this came to an abrupt end in January when the news broke that Starr had at long last caught "Slick Willie" by his Achilles' heel - his weakness for sex. Suddenly Starr took on a wholly new image as he stood in his driveway each morning, beaming his beatific smile as he prattled platitudes about "the truth."

No longer was this the blundering Clouseau; now we had the primal fanatic Gregers Werle of Ibsen's "The Wild Duck" - the corrupted idealist who pursued "the truth" (about sexual misconduct, it might be added) until it inexorably led to the suicide of a 14-year-old blind girl.

But now the frantically released Starr report - or "referral," to use the formal term - takes us out of the realm of literary metaphor and dumps a squalid pollution squarely into the great stream of American history.

Make no mistake, the Starr "referral" will come to be viewed in history as the political equivalent of a nuclear strike, and its radioactive fallout will last far beyond our time. So we may be certain the "referral" will be the subject of the kind of letter-by-letter scholastic exegesis that is applied to documents such as, say, the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Because of what yet lies ahead to bring this crisis to some resolution acceptable to the American people, only a fool or a journalist would venture to predict the ultimate historical impact of this bizarre document. So, with the caveat that I have been both, I will intrepidly press ahead.

Before I had even gotten through the introduction to the Starr "referral" it was clear beyond any reasonable doubt that this was a case-study in legal entrapment, and no strategem, not even those that broached prosecutorial criminality, would be ruled out in pursuit of that end.

Now that Clinton's excruciating testimony has been made public - certainly in violation of the spirit if not the letter of grand-jury secrecy - no one can plausibly deny that this ordeal was designed to confront the president with the Hobson's choice of either admitting that he committed perjury in the Paula Jones case, or compounding that perjury in his testimony before the Starr grand jury.

But by the time I reached the "Narrative" portion of the "referral," I began to hear the voice of history whispering eerily into my ear, and it said: This reads like the transcripts of "examinations" carried out by the General Court of the Colony in the Salem witch trials.

Suddenly the "referral" began to take on a flesh-and-blood historical dimension; you could see an almost spectral resemblance between today's cast of hapless characters and those at Salem 300 years ago.

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