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Can a Clinton Summer of Love Be Far Behind?

People have become jaded over the titillating revelations in this battle between lawyers and spin doctors.

April 02, 1998|JAMES P. PINKERTON | James P. Pinkerton is a lecturer at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. E-mail:

The first thing to be said is that, in an odd way, the president and the plaintiff deserve each other. They were both born into similar Arkansas backgrounds and both seemed to have lived full romantic lives. Yet they also show the same scrappy tenacity, not to mention skins as thick as a Razorback's.

No doubt Clinton has proved once again that he is "The Comeback Kid." But Jones is a household name at 31. Not only is she already in the process of a total makeover, but she lives in Southern California, the place of new looks and second chances. So who knows what future she'll have in the public eye. After all, if G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North can make comebacks, there's no reason to think that Jones, the natural queen of the Clinton crazies, can't have a bright future.

So Clinton is likely to spike yet again in the polls. Indeed, the hosannas from James Carville & Co. will drown out quibbles that Judge Susan Webber Wright's decision did not deal with the question of what if anything transpired between then-Gov. Clinton and Paula Corbin on May 8, 1991.

Of course, the Clintonians may not care anymore. In the wake of all the allegations about Monica Lewinsky, Kathleen Willey and the various other erupted bimbos, Clinton partisans barely deny that their man has had his share of randy encounters. As White House press secretary Mike McCurry said in February, the truth, when and if it comes out, will be "complicated."

Radio talk show host Ellen Ratner, a fervent Clinton supporter, was only a little more candid than most when she said Wednesday, "I don't care if Clinton made the Oval Office his bedroom." And the public, having been bombarded with sensational stories about the sex lives of everyone from Franklin Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy to Michael Jackson, now seems to view every new report as more fodder for Jerry Springer. So it is that the confession from Elizabeth Ward Gracen, the former Miss America turned TV actress, that she enjoyed an amorous evening with Clinton in 1983 was greeted with smirks and yawns.

In fact, the real action seems to be in courtrooms nowadays. More than any Washington story in memory, this has not been a battle of politicians over policy, but rather a fight between lawyers and spin doctors. The big players have been people such as Clinton advocate Robert Bennett and Jones spinmistress Susan Carpenter-McMillan. Surely only a country enjoying this much peace and prosperity would allow its politicians to be paralyzed by pettifoggery and punditry. As Claremont-McKenna College's John J. Pitney Jr. put it, "Politics in 1998 is not about a clash of ideas, it's an exchange of accusations."

One who must be regarding the news with mixed feelings is Gary Hart. In 1987, as he was gearing up to run a second time for the Democratic presidential nomination, he was run out of the race by of lurid revelations about his extramarital monkey business. Reached at his Denver law office Wednesday, Hart recalled, "Ten years ago I said that if this process continues, there weren't going to be people of quality in public office." He would not comment on the Clinton case, but he did observe that today, "Scrutiny is a bland word for a brutal process."

Maybe Hart was just ahead of his time. Maybe it took all these years for the sour feeling that his debacle engendered in many reporters to ferment into the feeling that the "gotcha" game had gone too far. If so, then we come to the irony of the Clinton case. Our winsome and teary-eyed 42nd president, the first Sensitive Guy in the White House, the first chief executive with a career-minded, "supermom" spouse, turns out to be something quite old-fashioned: a ladykiller.

And now, with Hillary at his side, with the tide of public opinion rising underneath him and with a huge legal hurdle behind him, Clinton can once again step lively into the cherry blossoms of the Washington springtime. Can a Summer of Love be far behind?

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