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Jewish World Review /Feb. 4, 1999 / 18 Shevat, 5759

Tony Snow

Tony Snow The languid sigh of waves lapping ashore

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) MEMBERS OF THE U.S. SENATE have expressed great consternation over the prospect of Monica Lewinsky's appearing in their historic chamber and describing the banal mechanics of her affair with the president's distinguishing characteristic.

Curiously, however, their speech patterns betray them. Listen: The adjectives of disgust roll luxuriously from their tongues: "graphic," "salacious," "prurient," "lascivious." (Lolita! Light of my life! Fire of my loins! My sin! My soul!)

One hears not the crisp chiming of outrage, but the languid sigh of waves lapping ashore. The senators linger over the censorious syllables as if hovering over damsels of their dreams.

One senses the palpable thunder of thrumming hearts; the roar of violet, violent passions. While the young pols redden and wag their fingers, the old guys fumble through fobbed pockets for vials of nitroglycerin.

It seems that these honorables, with their demands for fresh revelation, secretly hope for talk of riding crops and nannies' bibs. Yet, whatever Monica's testimony brings, it won't teach us anything new about sex.

When Bill Clinton was a teen, George Steiner observed: "Despite all the lyric or obsessed cant about the endless varieties and dynamics of sex, the actual sum of possible gestures, consummations and imaginings is drastically limited. There are probably more foods, more undiscovered eventualities of gastronomic enjoyment or revulsion than there have been sexual inventions since the Empress Theodora resolved 'to satisfy all amorous orifices of the human body to the full and at the same time.' There just aren't that many orifices."

Even senators know this. Each has experienced the bursting joys and quiet aftermath of carnal congress. So has the majority of the human race. When Americans beg deliverance from the naughty gossip, then, they do so not out of prudishness, but compassion.

Many of us think of Bill Clinton as a man achingly eager to attain sainthood. Time and again, he has stood at the pulpit of public life, pressing his palms to his chest, gazing beseechingingy toward the heavens and devouring his fleshy lower lip. His thespian displays can appear contrived and cheap, but so what? Who hasn't looked like a marionette when trying to convey condolences or strike an empathically appropriate pose in public?

Yet just when we think we have him figured, along comes the cavortship with Monica and poof! The image evaporates like burnt-off fog. The acolyte morphs into a lounge lizard.

Picture this: Miss Lewinsky shares her inner wish that they might become friends. She asks to exchange not just thoughtful tokens but thoughts.

Suddenly the president stops, kisses her full in the mouth and regally drops his pants. She wants pillow talk, but he will give only DNA.

What strikes us about this scene is the president's appalling directness. Behold, the most powerful and admired man on earth, standing in the sanctuary of democracy with his pants around his ankles! This episode exposes more about the president than we really want to know. Cravings for intimacy can lead anybody to behave in comical, even pitiful ways, but when we see somebody else caught in the act, we look for ways to remove ourselves graciously.

Of course, there's irony. The Children of the Sixties tried to elevate sex to the level of religion and exhibitionism to the status of confession. But the orgiastic dream died swiftly. After Woodstock came herpes. After herpes came AIDS. After AIDS came government advice -- from the surgeon general, no less -- that young men should vent their hormonal steam not by bedding local lasses, but through vigorous and regular onanism. And now this.

In recent years, we have burdened our leaders with expectations of exceptionalism. We persuaded ourselves that the best, brightest and noblest of our race could liberate us from privation and need. We forgot that we could not free statesmen from the gravitational impulses of human nature.

A politician who deems himself holy eventually will interpret his desires as matters of cosmic necessity. He will issue ukases based more on whim than fact. He will fabricate crises to display his might. And he will advise the intern to say she was delivering pizza. Hold the cheese.

It seems fitting that an administration which has tried so manfully to harness our baser instincts -- this is the White House of the V-chip, television ratings and anti-smoking jihad, after all -- could not harness the president's most publicized weaknesses. This tells us as much about the folly of the nanny state as it does about Bill Clinton.

Still, senators are right about an important detail of the president's trial. The sins involved are stunningly trashy and common. It is impossible to make the details interesting to anyone but youngsters and perverts.

So let no one pretend that testimony from Monica would disturb democracy or send Americanos into a shock-induced swoon. At best, the girl can remind us of two things -- the ghastly emptiness of illicit yearnings and the high price one pays for confusing power with virtue.


02/01/99: Verbal vortex
01/28/99: To be a ‘sell-out’ or an unelectable pol --- that is the question
01/25/99: The apogee of a trend
01/21/99:What my 3-year-old taught me
01/17/99:Don't be fooled, folks
01/14/99: Must a pol be ‘baaaad’ in order to get elected?
01/12/99: Jumpin’ Jack (Kemp)
01/08/99 : Hot air in the Windy City

©1999, Creators Syndicate