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California and the West | MIKE DOWNEY

It's Time for Monica's Audition in a Character Role

July 29, 1998|MIKE DOWNEY

Now, finally, we are going to find out something about Monica Lewinsky's true character, and this does not mean discovering conclusively how willing she is to have a fling with a married man.

We are at last going to see what Lewinsky is made of, see whether she is someone who will sell a confidant down the river, which would make her every bit as much an injudicious Judas as that gum-flapping backstabber Linda Tripp.

Because it took two to tango, so if Lewinsky and the philanderer of Pennsylvania Avenue did meet behind closed doors for an unspecified number of afternoon delights, she would transmogrify from a mistress into a monster should she save her own hide by betraying his. Better to be a siren than a snitch.

Public avenger Kenneth Starr is getting closer and closer to his dream, which is to re-McCarthyize the republic by making informers of as many Americans as he can. For six months now, we have seen Starr lap up the leakage of that stool pigeon Tripp, then induce Secret Service agents to rat on the man they are hired to serve, secretly.

And now from Starr comes blanket immunity for the lady in black, Lewinsky, in exchange for her testimony. The idea is for her to tell the truth, which sounds admirable on the face of it. As a character from a David Mamet play once said, always tell the truth, because it's the easiest thing to remember.

The difference here is, Lewinsky's immunity is designed to spare her from prosecution. Prosecution from what? From a five-year stretch for sex with a scoundrel? The man didn't authorize a break-in at Republican national headquarters.

No, contempt of court is what Lewinsky faces for not revealing secrets. But if telling the truth means avoiding the consequences of her own actions, and if Lewinsky elects to betray an intimacy, then she is no better than Tripp, the big creep who began all this in the first place.

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Even with their backs to the wall at the White House, and the jokes here are too obvious to state, Bill Clinton's cronies act as if they are actually looking forward to Lewinsky's telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing else.

"Her lawyer said that she's going to give complete and truthful testimony, and if she does, that should present no problem to the President," said Mike McCurry, a lame duck crony, now in his final days of being the President's proxy.

"I think he's pleased that things will work out for her," McCurry concluded.

In other words, Clinton's position continues to be that if Lewinsky does put her palm atop a Bible and swear not to make anything up, she will verify his assurance that nothing happened.

If she says anything else, it means somebody's lying.

It also means that the man who spends most nights in the White House could end up sleeping in the den.

By receiving a total, transactional immunity that anything she says won't be used against her--Ken Starr's equivalent to a Monopoly "get out of jail free" card--Lewinsky is free to say anything. Many are going to presume that Monica made a tough decision to finally come clean, should she reveal that she did indeed dally with Willie.

All she would be doing, though, is covering her own rear. Because anyone of an adult age who would freely jeopardize the government, just because she didn't have the decency to accept responsibility for something that she undertook of her own free will, is a yellow-belly without a soul.

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To keep one's private life private is as sacrosanct as free speech. It is the right not to speak, so shame on Starr for persecuting an American citizen who deserves the right to keep her secrets to herself. No law on any books and no lawyer of any authority should be able to hound an individual this way, just for being foolhardy in one's love life.

Ken Starr is an Orwellian figure of frightening, watch-out-because-we-are-watching-you proportions. Do as he demands, or he will get you.

The worst thing Bill Clinton is in this matter is a cad. If he did, as so many suspect, cheat on his wife, it makes him a louse, not a crook. Yet because he did not acknowledge an alleged infidelity by volunteering, "Yes! I did it! How much would you like to know?" he is pursued by Starr as an obstructor of justice, a villain who must be caught.

It is up to Monica Lewinsky now to expose the President as an adulterer, thus revealing herself as someone who would rather do unto others than have it done unto her.

Mike Downey's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Write to him at Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053, or phone (213) 237-7366.

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