The Embarrassment of the Intellectuals

When it comes to entertainment-industry defenses of Bill Clinton, boilerplate like "We elected him president, not Pope" and "It's no one's business but his and Hillary's" just doesn't work when the charges are perjury and obstruction of justice. So it's time to lower the bar again to try, try to absolve this very corrupt man.

How, now, to explain Clinton's raunchy behavior with Monica Lewinsky?

Enter Marshall Herskovitz, co-creator of "thirtysomething," the Bush-era series that deserved a special Emmy for pretentious pointlessness. In Bernard Weinraub's September 29 New York Times report on yet another Clinton fundraising visit to Los Angeles, Herskovitz, now a movie director, opined that "Clinton is a set of contradictions and most of those contradictions work quite well within the moral structure of Hollywood. The scandal is really a referendum on sexual morality... Those people whose sexual morality accepts the possibility of complexity and ambivalence in a marital relationship have not judged Clinton as badly as those who see marriage as a monolithic simple entity. And in Hollywood, marriage is often not seen as a monolithic, simple entity."

To acknowledge "complexity and ambivalence" in a marriage is a sign of maturity; to claim that adultery somehow increases a marriage's depth or sophistication, as Herskovitz seems to be claiming, is absurd. It also pretty much sums up the "moral structure" of Hollywood.

Asking Hollywood to expound on sexual morality is akin to having Mike Tyson explain the Marquess of Queensbury rules. And yet the news media flock there for "wisdom" simply because in that community Clinton's behavior elicits not a gasp, but a yawn.

And the media will give the loony left a podium from which to rant.

Take left-wing actress Vanessa Redgrave, who on October 1 went on CNBC's "Upfront Tonight" and made her interviewer, inveterate Ken Starr-basher Geraldo Rivera, seem almost fair-minded by comparison. Redgrave declared that Starr "has more powers than any elected leader of any democratic country in the world today... He has the powers to create... a trial without jury of the kind that... we haven't seen... since Joseph Stalin's days or the Nazi days."

The peg for Redgrave's CNBC appearance was a letter, published in the Paris newspaper Le Monde, calling Starr "fanatical" and his investigation "inquisitorial harassment," and arguing that his actual goal is to "undermine President Clinton's ideas of freedom and his social and liberal [sic] program." Redgrave signed the letter, along with fellow thespians Gerard Depardieu, Anthony Hopkins, and Emma Thompson. More newsworthy than actors and actresses, however, is the literary set's large-scale entry into this uproar; authors signing the letter included Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gunter Grass, and William Styron.

All but Styron are foreigners, and we thank our international brethren for proving they are utterly ignorant about the United States. But what can one say about the American novelists who penned their unintentionally risible reflections on Monicagate for the October 5 New Yorker... Sit back and ponder these pearls:

Nobel Prize winner and Oprah favorite Toni Morrison: "Such concentrated power [as Starr's] may be reminiscent of a solitary Torquemada... It may even suggest a fatwa. But neither applies. This is Slaughtergate. A sustained, bloody, arrogant coup d'etat. The presidency is being stolen from us. And the people know it.

"White skin notwithstanding, this is our first black president... Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas."

(A white person attributing such "trope[s] of blackness" to blacks would be called a racist, and rightly so.)

Lorrie Moore: "Starr [is] the crazed zealot the right wing didn't even know it had. He is, of course, Victor Hugo's Javert."

Jane Smiley: "My personal bete noir [is] George Bush... The only time in his presidency that he got a little animated was when he went to war against Iraq... For [Bush], launching a missile seemed to be better than sex, [whereas] war always brings Bill Clinton to a state of deep reluctance rather than a state of secret thrill."

Ethan Canin: "Ken Starr's zealous and chillingly unambiguous morality... suggests to me none... of the complex interplay and recognition of opposing forces that interest the intelligent mind... If Bill Clinton and Ken Starr were characters in one of my students' stories, the class would agree that it is Mr. Starr, not Mr. Clinton, who lacks character."

For those who have pondered the decline of serious fiction in the last few decades, here's abundant proof of one of its causes: muddled and sometimes just plain goofy thinking by serious fiction writers. In fact, Morrison, et al, have provided us with reasons not to take them or their work seriously at all.