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Jewish World Review June 25, 2003 / 25 Sivan, 5762

Mark Goldblatt

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Clinton Lit 101: The lessons of History | Predictably, much of the hoopla surrounding Hillary Clinton's ghostwritten memoir Living History has centered on her claim not to have known about her husband's affair with Monica Lewinsky until he actually confessed to her the weekend he testified before a grand jury in August 1998.

The veracity of this claim has been called into question — given the widespread rumors of the Lewinsky affair, and given Bill Clinton's history of womanizing, and given the fact that, well, Hillary's last name is Clinton. For what it's worth, I'm inclined to believe her; married people convince themselves of all sorts of things to get through the night. And let's not forget that Hillary once told Talk magazine that Bill's wandering eye was the result of "a terrible conflict between his mother and his grandmother" which left him "scarred by abuse that he can't even take it out and look at it."

Whatever the case, a far more revealing insight into the former First Lady's mindset can be gleaned from her response to her husband's confession — specifically, from the moment she decides to forgive him. She compares it to Nelson Mandela's decision, after decades in prison, to make peace with his white jailers: "'It was a challenge to forgive Bill,' she writes, 'but if Mandela could forgive, I would try.'"

The comparison is obscene, of course, but it reflects a self-absorption so larger-than-life that, in a perverse way, it's almost comical: Yeah, there was a long line at Bloomingdale's last night, but I figured if Elie Wiesel could live through the Holocaust, I could survive the 15-minute wait.

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It is their self-absorption, more so even than their mendacity, that is the tragic flaw of the Clintons, herr und frau. It's what makes the prospect of Hillary's running for the presidency in 2008 so stomach-turning.

On the subject of Clinton-literature, I didn't want to allow Susan McDougal's recent memoir "The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk to pass without comment. For those with short memories, McDougal and her husband Jim were the Clintons' former business partners in the shady Whitewater land deal, which precipitated the Kenneth Starr investigation, which precipitated the Lewinsky scandal, which precipitated hundreds of thousands of teenage boys attempting to convince their girlfriends that fellatio doesn't count as sex...which is perhaps the Clinton presidency's only lasting legacy.

It was Susan McDougal who refused to testify before the Starr Commission and wound up spending 21 months behind bars on the charge of civil contempt. She had nothing to hide, she claims in her book, but she refused to talk because she feared that her truthful statements would catch her up in a perjury trap Starr had laid for her, on the basis of false evidence provided by other witnesses. And if she were convicted of perjury, she might wind up in prison.

In other words, she was so afraid of going to prison if she told the truth that she decided not to testify . . . and go to prison.

The fact that McDougal is actually considered a heroine by many Clinton supporters, a paragon of personal integrity and a defiant role model, speaks volumes about the inability of folks on the political left to engage in if-then logical analysis. Her martyr status is, in the final analysis, her most damning testimony.

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JWR contributor Mark Goldblatt teaches at SUNY's Fashion Institute of Technology. His new novel is "Africa Speaks". Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Mark Goldblatt