||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.
With Women Like These...
By Margaret Carlson
(TIME, August 10) -- It's Still a Man's World. Men make war, run the government and maintain sole custody of the remote control. They also cause the most political trouble: the Keating Five, Abscam, Iran-contra. Martha Mitchell tried to insert herself into Watergate but got stuck with a hypodermic needle and put to bed before we could hear much from her.
There are women galore in the current scandal, but not one of them is a figure of power or authority. We are back with prefeminist vixens, villains and victims. Couldn't we at least get a Marcia Clark or a Leslie Abramson? The President's inner circle has mostly been an all-male preserve (just ask Dee Dee Myers). Ken Starr's deputies are swaggering cowboys, and the attorneys for the witnesses are all pinstripes and red meat. Marcia Lewis, Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky have become household names, but would you want your daughter to grow up to be any one of them? Even Hillary Clinton, fresh from her Heritage Tour, is more like Lady Bird Johnson than Eleanor Roosevelt.
Lewinsky, who reportedly told a friend she was bringing presidential kneepads to Washington, is a throwback to an era when the best way to power was through a prominent man. She is a product of indulgent, divorced Beverly Hills parents. As mothers go, I don't know any quite like Monica's, and have trouble finding a touchstone: Madonna (the current one)? A character out of Dynasty (Monica's favorite soap opera)? Monica and her mom aren't simply close, as most stories posit; instead, they're gal pals, dieting together since Monica was a chubby eight-year-old, moving in as roommates after the divorce, swapping clothes and dating strategies. Were my daughter to tell me she was having an affair with an older man, I would do everything I could to stop it (Do you know how many nurses think the heart surgeon is really in love with them? If you keep this up, I will lock you in your room! etc.). I might not succeed, but I do know I would not curl up on the sofa and chat about it. And I would not tuck away a soiled dress as if my daughter had caught the bridal bouquet, even under the guise of preserving it as potential evidence. But, then again, I would never have written a book like The Private Lives of the Three Tenors, hinting to the publisher that my knowledge of Placido Domingo was more than platonic.
Then there's Linda Tripp, whose voice we heard for the first time this week. Addressing an ungrateful nation from the courthouse beach, as the grand-jury stakeout is known, and shaking like a leaf, Tripp made a desperate effort to humanize herself as a truth-seeking patriot, a "suburban mom" protecting her kids. "Who am I?" she began. "I'm you," she answered, "an average American." I shouted back at the TV, "No, you're NOT! Take that back!"
Of all the characters, Tripp is the hardest to embrace, especially when she insists on painting herself as a victim. Anyone in her position, she contends, would have started taping after being asked to lie under oath, which is news to me. Most women I know, if confided in by a good friend about an affair, would keep it secret. And if the good friend asked me to lie under oath about it, I would say no and insist we drop the subject. I would not press a Record button for three months' worth of intimate confidences, all the while feigning friendship.
Tripp's "I am you" speech was similar to the one given earlier in the day by another misunderstood victim, Mike Tyson. He wanted the New Jersey Athletic Control Board to know that biting off Evander Holyfield's ear hurt him deeply--although Tyson's ear is just fine while Holyfield's needed surgery. Similarly, Tripp would have us believe that everything she did hurt her more than it hurt Monica. Now that Monica is accusing her for the first time--of helping to write the talking points--she may actually find out what being accused of a felony by a friend feels like. Tripp's plea for understanding didn't take. After the speech, only 15% of those questioned in a TIME/CNN poll had a favorable impression of her.
As for Hillary Clinton, there will be no "I am you" speech. However much she might be angry at her husband, she is far angrier at Starr for training 100 lawyers and FBI agents on her husband's sex life. Many people, myself included, would have liked her to hurl her husband's boxer shorts out on the Truman Balcony for getting us into all this. But just as many of us admire couples who slog through the bad times. Her favorability ratings, at about 60%, are her highest ever. Still, I wouldn't want my daughter to grow up to be Hillary Clinton unless she were married to the likes of Al Gore.