Are you wearing a wire? [HRC’s nervous laugh lasts quite some time.] That’s just my little joke–I mean, of course you are. We know the rules. So long as Bill, Vernon, and I stay on the island, we can’t be extradited. But every visitor from the United States is working for Mr. Starr, and please, don’t pretend you aren’t–it’s wasted breath. How is he, by the way? Hah, gotcha!
You just tell him I’m not ready yet. Not this frequency, Kenneth. But go on, sit down; I really don’t care. It gets pretty samey when it’s just the three of us. How does it go: Able was I ere I saw…
What’s it been–a year now? Look, we never thought Bill’s story about that emergency summit with Saddam would fly, but what could we do? The marshals were streaming across the South Lawn when we got into the helicopter. Then we got here, and whoopsie: no Saddam. Well, Arabs are unpredictable–blah, blah, blah. It took everyone a while longer to figure out we weren’t coming back.
What’s left of the press is staked out on that cliff. The Secret Service has the beach. We’re on the rocks.
I don’t know about Bruce [Babbitt]. He’s got his own island. But we don’t really have a hell of a lot to do here. Bill air-golfs, and sometimes he makes speeches to the seagulls; he wants them to stop eating fish. Vernon has a cell phone made of twigs he plays with. And me? Oh, what do you think–I stay home and bake cookies. Last month, to pass the time, we had a contest: ”Name the Best-Dressed Dude on Elba.” It was Vernon’s idea. He won.
Oh, yes, that’s true. We do both call Vernon ”the Skipper.” But have you heard what Bill calls me? Mary-Ann. That hurts–after all these years, you’d think at least I’d get to be Ginger. I mean, I’m the only one left.
It’s hard for me to remember what that last week in Washington was like, before we broke and ran. Mainly, I was just like everybody else–I watched a lot of CNN. Maybe the worst part was having to hear Gennifer Flowers tell Larry King that she felt sorry for me. That skank! Oh, well–it’s all hair dye under the bridge, now.
We started with the usual drill. Shove all the White House women out the front door to talk about what a wonderful guy Bill is–honest, what did we care about making Madeleine Albright look stupid?–while all the men came in the back way to figure out how to get him off the hook: Mickey [Kantor], [Harold] Ickes. We had one team working around the clock just to weed anything iffy out of the State of the Union Address; that line about asking America’s young people to pay more than lip service to their ideals had to go. So did the one about the heavy blows this president has had to endure. By the time they’d taken out everything that might get a laugh, there wasn’t a lot left besides, ”Country’s fine! Yow! Gotta go now!”
But this time, it really didn’t matter what we did. Not a lot you can do when every time you turn on the TV, Ted Koppel’s wondering out loud if oral sex counts. When he was at the White House, Arafat asked me if it doesn’t in our culture; I told him that if you’re talking about Bill Clinton, there’s a good argument to be made that it doesn’t count for much. He thought that was pretty funny. But you know Yasir–when he’s in the United States, he thinks everything’s funny.
And then everybody kept rerunning that old 60 Minutes interview from ’92, which was so embarrassing. You know, the time machine: there I am in the hairband, jest a-droppin’ my ”g”’s like I’m Ma Joad or something. I’d almost forgotten I used to talk in that fake down-home accent, back before we got elected.
I know you didn’t see a lot of me that week. They’d practically kept me locked in the attic since the Second Inaugural. People must’ve thought I was up there talking to Mrs. Roosevelt again, or something. I’ll tell you, though–nobody ever understood about that. Who cared what that old bucktoothed biddy thought? I was trying to reach Vince [Foster]. ”Please, Eleanor,” I’d say. ”Just let me hear his voice. Just once.” She’d always come back and say Vince didn’t want to talk to me. That’s why I stopped.
But I can’t say I was surprised. I knew what I was in for from the start–ever since Bill and I made our deal, back at Yale. If people really want to think of us as these cornpone Corleones, let’s face it: I was Michael; he was Fredo. In this country, if you want to win elections, you’ve always got to put Fredo out front.
But yeah–deep down, I guess we both always knew Bill’s zipper would do us in. To be honest, neither of us ever worried too much about Whitewater, since nobody in America could make head or tail of it. My god, even we weren’t sure what we were up to with Whitewater. I mean, tell Bill and me that something is corrupt, and we’re there with bells on, and a brass band on the platform playing Sousa. [Laughter] But we didn’t really know what it was all about; just that it wasn’t legal.
But the sex? Even a blind man could make head or tail out of Monica Lewinsky. Betsey [Wright] and I used to say it was only a matter of time until they found the smoking cock. Of course, he never stopped once we were in the White House. Imagine telling someone like him, ”Sure, you could screw around all you ever wanted back when you were just the dipshit governor of Arkansas. But now you’re the most powerful man in the world–and no hot buttered nookie for you anymore, Mr. Bill.” You know he’s going to think: says who? Dee Dee Myers? Michael Kinsley? Give me a break.
You don’t want to know how out of control it was. But I’ll tell you this–I was just heartsick every time we had to leave him alone in a room with Buddy. Maybe someday you’ll hear the real reason Stephanopoulos left. I wasn’t too surprised that little George was the one who started yapping about impeachment before anybody else had even finished their coffee, the day the story first came out.
Even so, it wasn’t just George, god knows. Panetta was right behind him. Good old Leon–always ready to try on another pair of elevator shoes. All those people who’d been sticking by us, you could see them suddenly asking themselves, ”What for?” Pretty soon, there wasn’t anybody left but Carville. That’s a great thing to be able to tell yourself when you first look in the mirror, believe me: ”Hey, at least we’ve got James Carville on our side.”
To tell the truth, I think everybody just got fed up. I mean, between us, Bill and I had done lots worse things, right? And gotten through them. Vernon, too–compared to what he put together to shut Web Hubbell up, this was like nailing Dillinger for jaywalking. But that morning, the whole town picked up the Post, or turned on CNN, and said, ”Oh, the hell with it. Enough.”
See, up to then, what had kept people confused was that they thought they had to take sides. You know: were Bill and I crooks, or was Starr out to get us? Eenie, meenie, minie, mo. But that week, it finally dawned on everyone that they didn’t need to choose. Starr really was kind of a kook and a creep–and we really were scum, pretty much. End of story.
To tell the truth, I think a big part of what turned it all around was that guy [William] Ginsburg, Lewinsky’s attorney. He was good. He knew just how to play it. After six years of us and them, you turn on the TV, and there’s this peppery little guy who’s acting kind of sensible and decent, and pretty pissed off about what’s happening. I don’t know if it was the contrast or just the novelty, but if you ask me, that cooked our goose right there.
Monica? You know, I’m not sure I ever spoke to her, back in the White House. Maybe once: ”Gee, that’s a nice dress, where’d you get it? You know, a little club soda would probably take that right out, hon”–something like that.
But do you remember that first photograph of her–the one that was all over TV and the papers, back when the story first came out? I think about that picture a lot. That’s all it took to turn her into the biggest victim since they pulled Baby Jessica out of the well.
I mean, you saw Gennifer, and at least you could tell she knew how to take care of herself. Paula, too. Not to mention me. But there’s Monica–and she’s so excited, she’s so happy, she’s soooo stupid. My god–Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon?! That’s where they send the rich girls whose teddy bears outscore them on the SATs.
It’s that look she’s got. You know: Golly, here I am in Washington! Look at me–I’m working for the president! With that great big smile that’s too stupid to know it’s telling the world and Bill Clinton, ”Hi, I’m really gullible. Disillusion me.”
Funny, isn’t it–30 years of feminism couldn’t get that look off that girl’s face. Clarence Thomas couldn’t; Packwood couldn’t. I never had that look.
Sure, I felt bad for her. But I also knew that unless I was all wrong about how this country works, she’d be on the cover of Playboy before Al Gore’s hand was off the Bible.
I still can’t bring myself to say it: President Gore. And while you’re here–please, please, whatever you do, don’t call Al that in front of Bill. He’ll go into one of his tantrums. Then the only thing that calms him down is Vernon and me singing ”Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” We’re both pretty sick of it, to tell you the truth.
Dear, loyal, virtuous Al. Well–he sure didn’t waste much time getting them to invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment once Air Force One came back empty, did he? Bill hadn’t been expecting that. He thought that he could just go on being president from here–for a while longer than we got to, anyway.
Well, he and Tipper are welcome to it. Now Mr. Starr’s investigating them. I guess Al thought he’d buy some time by giving Starr Cabinet rank, and that stupid title–Inquisitor-General of the United States–and letting him dress up in that silly uniform. I’d love to have seen the look on Al’s face the day Starr told him he wanted the vice presidency, and the hand of Al’s youngest daughter in marriage.
Not to mention how he looked when Tipper told him that had been her deal with Uncle Kenneth from the start.
Maybe this is going to sound crazy. But looking back, I just don’t think anybody ever really liked Bill and me very much. You tell me: does anyone miss us? That’s what I thought.
Well–I guess I’d better head on in. Take it from me: you wouldn’t believe how fast it gets cold here, the minute the sun goes down. Send Chelsea love. No, don’t say who it’s from. Just love. I’m sure she’ll understand.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 3, 1998