WASHINGTON -- I would like to make it clear that I have never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. And by that, I mean no sex of any kind whatsoever. No sex. No sexual relationship. No affair. Nothing. None. Zippo. Nada. Zilch.
By which I mean we never got past second base.
Or maybe third base.
But not home plate. I swear.
And I urge you to keep in mind that third base is not sex. It says so in the Bible. Somewhere, it says: "And unless thou goest all the way, thou need not tell thine wife or admit it during a press conference."
Or words to that effect. I am not saying that is a literal translation.
I know this because one of the most interesting aspects of the Monica Lewinsky controversy has been learning even more about Bill Clinton's private language, which I call Clinton-speak.
In Clinton-speak, words can mean anything. Or nothing. But mostly, they can mean whatever you want them to mean long after you speak them.
Let's start with Clinton and marijuana. Personally, I don't care if he smoked dope every night with Cheech and Chong when he was in college.
But what everybody remembers about Clinton and marijuana is his famous statement about not inhaling.
That was not the important statement, however. When he was first running for president, Clinton was asked several times if he ever used drugs as a youth.
And he replied: "I never broke the laws of my country."
Which reporters took to be a flat-out, blanket denial. What they found out later, however, was that Clinton had tried marijuana while attending Oxford University in England. So while his denial about breaking the laws "of my country" was technically correct, it was purposefully misleading.
And some reporters did ask Clinton why he had not answered a simple question with the simple truth. Why didn't he just say he smoked a little dope while he was a Rhodes scholar in England?
"That's not the specific question I've been asked in the past," Clinton said. "If anybody had asked the question, I'd have answered it."
OK, flash-forward to Clinton and the draft.
Many people wondered how Clinton had finished college, gone off to Oxford and never gotten called for the draft.
"I wound up just going through the lottery, and it was just a pure fluke that I was never called," Clinton told The Washington Post in 1992.
But reporters later discovered that Clinton had been sent an induction notice in April 1969.
So had he lied to the Post?
No! It was Clinton-speak! Clinton didn't think getting an induction notice was the same thing as being called for the draft because ... well, here is how he explained it to the Post:
"Clinton said draft board officials had treated the matter 'like it was nothing at all unusual' and as a result he said he never believed it was significant or relevant during earlier discussions about his record. 'It just never occurred to me to make anything of it one way or the other, since it was a routine matter,' he added."
Got that? Since the induction notice was "routine," Clinton didn't think it really amounted to being called for the draft.
Does this make any sense to you? It doesn't matter! It's Clinton-speak!
OK, now let's take the case of Gennifer Flowers. In 1992, she said she had a 12-year love affair with Clinton. Clinton denied it.
In a televised forum from Claremont, N.H., Clinton said: "The affair did not happen."
A few days later, appearing on "60 Minutes," Clinton said Flowers was a "friendly acquaintance."
So Steve Kroft, assuming Clinton was speaking English and not Clinton-speak, said: "I'm assuming from your answer that you're categorically denying that you ever had an affair with Gennifer Flowers?"
"I said that before," Clinton said. "And so has she."
"You feel like you've leveled with the American people?" Kroft asked.
"I have absolutely leveled with the American people," Clinton replied.
So what happened recently? White House officials reportedly said that Clinton had admitted to a sexual encounter with Flowers in the deposition he was forced to give in the Paula Jones case a few weeks ago.
Was Clinton lying on "60 Minutes"? Naw. He said he had never had an "affair." And an affair to Clinton means... well, I don't know. Which is the beauty of Clinton-speak. Words can mean anything!
So when Clinton went on the air with Jim Lehrer of PBS and was asked if he had an affair with Lewinsky, Clinton said there "is" no improper relationship.
Lehrer: "No improper relationship: Define what you mean by that."
Clinton: "Well, I think you know what it means. It means that there is not a sexual relationship, an improper sexual relationship or any other kind of improper relationship."
Lehrer: "You had no sexual relationship with this young woman?"
Clinton: "There is not a sexual relationship; that is accurate."
Then, after many news organizations noted his use of the present tense, Clinton toughened his stance.
"I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," he said from the Roosevelt Room of the White House last week.
But then stories began circulating that Clinton did not consider oral sex a "sexual relationship" because the Bible says only intercourse is sex.
What did Clinton do to whom when?
I have no idea. You certainly can't tell from anything he has said so far.
Which is the ultimate beauty of Clinton-speak:
Only one person really knows what it means. And he's not talking.
1/29/98: What the president has going for him
1/27/98: Judgment call: how Americans view President Clinton
1/22/98: Bimbo eruptions past and present
1/20/98: Feeding the beast: Paula Jones gets the full O.J.
1/15/98: Let's get it over with: it's time to deal with Saddam, already
1/13/98: Sonny Bono is dead, let the good times roll
1/8/98: Carribbean Cheesecake: First couple has cake, eats cake
1/6/98: PO'ed: a suspected druggie jumps through the employment hoops
1/1/98: Cures for that holiday hangover
12/30/97: Buy stuff now
12/25/97: Peace to all squirrelkind
12/23/97: Home for the Holidays: Where John Hinckley, never convicted, will not be
12/18/97: Bill's B-list Bacchanalia: Press and politicos get cozy, to a point
12/16/97: All dressed up... (White House flack Mike McCurry speculates on his next career)