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Carlson Margaret Carlson was named in 1994 the first woman columnist in TIME's history. She writes primarily about policy and politics and is a regular panelist on CNN's Capital Gang.

Washington Diary: Paula, We Hardly Knew Ye

By Margaret Carlson

TIME magazine 4-13-98

(TIME, April 13) -- Celebrity crises can have a salutary effect. Just as Ronald Reagan's polyps sent a lot of people for colonoscopies, certain behavior exhibited during periods of scandal should be examined.

POLITICIANS: Don't try this in your district. Randiness as a way to get your poll numbers up is a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. Think Jimmy Carter, not Bill Clinton. Alpha males might want to sit out the year 2000. Only candidates with the sexual discipline of the Pope should declare.

THE SUPREME COURT: Sure, you don't get out much, but really, what were you thinking? Doff those robes, and read the tabloids in the grocery checkout line. This suit you let fly wasn't about whose neck got whiplashed, but about everything the Jerry Springer culture thrives on: fame, fortune, affairs, revenge, big book deals, bigger hair. How could you think a President would not be "distracted"?

WOMEN: Don't change so much you look like you've entered the Witness Protection Program. As the nuns used to say, What are you hiding under all that makeup? A year ago, we were shocked when a newsmagazine gave a makeup and hairstyling credit on its Paula Jones cover. But that was four makeovers ago and before Washington hairdressers, previously known for keeping the chignon alive, had p.r. agents. Linda Tripp refused to sit for a photo by the New York Times because the newspaper would not pay for her hair and makeup artist.

THE CHATTERING CLASSES: Oh, shut up. And turn those klieg lights off. The need to fill airtime by the All-Scandal, All-the-Time networks grew so great that second- and third-tier pundits like me could command a limo. The pressure to top one's colleagues led to premature enunciation of the I word (most conspicuously by George Stephanopoulos to prove his independence) and predictions that the patient had only days to live. When Americans overwhelmingly sided with the President, the press attributed it to falling morals. Virtue pundit Bill Bennett turned on his natural allies--ordinary folk and Billy Graham--to side with the press, whose family values he usually disparages. As our moment fades, watch for depressed talking heads to grab a fix in front of ATM surveillance cameras. It's cold out here.

REPUBLICANS: You don't see sexual harassment if you trip over it in the cloakroom. Now you're baiting feminists for carefully weighing he said against she said. We'll be watching when one of yours gets nailed.

BILLIONAIRE CLINTON HATERS: Troopers are not a good investment. Stick with think tanks.

INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Know when to fold. That extraordinary driveway press encounter, in which you lapsed into Spanish and claimed Dragnet's Jack Webb as your hero, did not inspire confidence. Right after that, your ally Senator Arlen Specter hinted that you might want to spare Republicans a long national nightmare unless you have an open-and-shut case. But your crusade is all the chattering classes have left. Better that you be the first I.C. to prosecute a cover-up of a sin, not a crime, than that we return to covering IMF funding and NATO expansion. As you put it, Vaya con Dios.

In TIME This Week

Cover Date: April 13, 1998

The Presidents: History's Judgment
Day Of Deliverance: Judge Tosses Out Jones Case
Interview With President Clinton: "It was in the best interest of the country"
Meanwhile, Back In Arkansas...
Washington Diary: Paula, We Hardly Knew Ye
Viewpoint: What Paula Has Taught Us
McCain's Big Tobacco Deal
Whitewater: Hale Storm Rising
The Strange Case Of The Spy In The Winnebago
The Notebook: Webb Hubbell Back In The Spotlight


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