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The story within the story

Tucked inside Monica's book is a thinner, more important book--about Bill

By Margaret Carlson

March 8, 1999
Web posted at: 11:00 a.m. EST (1600 GMT)

TIME magazine

Monica's story is a collection of refrigerator-magnet cliches strung together over 280 pages, until you want to scream if she says, "I love the little boy in him," one more time. Grab a few of her dippy observations at random--"I cried myself to sleep," "I saw him as a man, not as the President," "He promised me he would [fill in the blank]"--add bathos, and you have a typical paragraph. Repeat three times, and you have a page. Spritz with psychobabble and enough self-improvement rhetoric to fuel a Weight Watchers convention, and you have a "Book Event," a postmodern creation that has feelings but no thoughts. While examining her every emotion, Monica reports nothing about the White House other than the President's private study and bathroom. For all we know, she could have passed Tony Blair on her way out of the Oval Office but not told us because what she remembers is the awful blister she got from her high-heel sandals on the way home.

Fortunately, inside this too-thick book is a thin one: Bill's Story, which shows how these two were catastrophes waiting to self-destruct upon impact. Bill and Monica are equally immature, with bottomless needs, heedless narcissism and steamer trunks of emotional baggage, destined to fall into a carnal swoon hours after they met. That thong flash in the chief of staff's office, which certainly grabbed the President's attention, could have landed her in Secret Service leg irons, but to her it was just "one step further in their flirtation."

In Monica, Clinton may have seen his chance to return to his hotdogging Arkansas days, when, it's been said, a room and a prospect were often waiting in a downtown hotel. Here was someone relentless enough to penetrate the cocoon surrounding the most protected man on earth, someone who offered a postadolescent escape from the demands of his job and marriage. Monica fit the picture he carries around in his head of the perfect mistress: a piece of brain candy compared with the intellectually demanding Hillary, someone instantly available and experienced in juggling the special needs of a married man. With a rechargeable cell phone, no independent life and a willingness to harass Betty Currie endlessly, Monica could be dressed and over to the White House with the speed of a sound bite.

Her "little boy" must have been humming Thank Heaven for Little Girls over his good fortune. Who else but a morally indifferent ingenue would coo over his feeling sorry for himself because a soldier had died in Bosnia and would let him use it as an excuse to violate his fidelity calendar: the record she said he kept of the days he didn't cheat on his wife, like an alcoholic crossing off days he stays off the sauce. One frightening claim in the book is that the President became "sexually aroused" by Monica's description of her own Bosnia visit as a Pentagon employee. Perhaps those bombs in Iraq were not dropped, as Clinton's critics charged, to cover up a sexual relationship but because of one. Our Monica, however, is a Bosnia, Schmosnia, kind of girl. War is hell, but what about her needs? She hated it when those world crises cut into her quality time with the Commander in Chief. Luckily, Clinton knew that Monica's G spot was any version of "Gee, you're looking skinny today." They may not have Paris, roses and candlelight, but they will always have yo-yo dieting.

She conjures romance where there is none, turning the Starr report into Message in a Bottle. He was an "incredible, sensual kisser" with "adoring eyes." Where most women might see lust, she saw "soft touches," "strong hugs" and "tenderness." Unaware that true love stays for breakfast, she just longed for one more encounter in the john. At least their phone sex had afterplay. Like teenagers, they prattled for hours about the shared misery of their forlorn, chubby childhoods and how unique they were. Bill once told her, "People like us, we have fire in our bellies, and there are people who don't know how to react." Those other people would turn out to be everyone else on earth. But, nevermind, they're no match for these self-indulgent kids. Fruitlessly, you root for the "Meanies" to stop the insanity, the way you silently scream at the imperiled heroine in a scary movie to call the police, but the Meanies are outmaneuvered by Clinton, who has pressured his loyal secretary into arranging assignations with, and then later walling off, his hysterical girlfriend. He even uses the death of Currie's brother in a traffic accident as a reason to call Monica. Monica, showing more conscience than the amoral adulterer, refused to use it herself.

Of all the awful things Clinton did, the cruelest was hot-wiring Monica's fantasy that he would leave his wife ("I might be alone in three years"). Reading that, I finally realize why Hillary appears undaunted by the prospect of the most ferocious Senate race in the country. As ruthless as Mayor Rudy Giuliani might be, he will treat Hillary better than her husband has. And to those in Congress who think Clinton hasn't been punished, read this book. Monica is punishment enough.


MORE TIME STORIES:

Cover Date: March 15, 1999

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