By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Monica in Black and White was produced under the cagey eye of HBO‘s nonfiction queen, Sheila Nevins, who has done for documentary filmmaking what ’N Sync Svengali Lou Pearlman did for pop music. The show is an almost perfect piece of TV packaging, from its black-and-white photography -- connoting both glamour and literal truth -- to its gleeful use of recordings that reveal Linda Tripp at her most demonic in ensnaring the young intern. The show brings up all the details that a self-serious network like CBS never would. Lewinsky is asked about being America‘s leading blowjob queen and why she kept the semen-stained dress; she’s comforted by another Beverly Hills High grad, who tremulously suggests that Monica had been sexually abused by one of their teachers; ultimately, she‘s rebuked by a 40-ish black man for being shallow and self- serving. Although the crowd’s upset for her, Monica thanks him for being so honest.
I doubt that she‘d offer the same thanks to Bill Clinton, whose legendary ability to “compartmentalize” borders on the sociopathic. (He sent pollsters out to ask whether he should tell the truth about the affair, and if so, how he should phrase the admission.) The Lewinsky case was always bursting with spooky undercurrents, from Tripp’s near-Shakespearean malevolence to Ken Starr turning into Torquemada while remaining convinced that he was as fair-minded as Abe Lincoln. Yet Monica in Black and White reminded me that I‘ve seen few things scarier than the furious, self-righteous conviction with which Clinton told America, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman . . . Miss Lewinsky” -- perfectly aware that he was lying through his teeth. You can tell Lewinsky wishes that the president had simply owned up to his deeds, like a man.
It feels quintessentially Clintonian that Monica should re-emerge just as the former president’s reputation is starting to make a comeback. In recent days, David Brooks and George Will have both used Clinton‘s “principled” commitment to free trade as a way of bludgeoning Bush for his steel tariffs. Meanwhile, the ex-president’s best-known rhinoceros bird, Joe Klein (who wrote Primary Colors), has been all over the airwaves promoting his new book, The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton. Shrewdly bucking the trend of belaboring Monica, he credits Clinton with “a serious substantive presidency” that achieved some worthwhile domestic goals -- including tax credits for the poor and the college-bound -- and helped restore faith in the power of government.
Clinton was the ideal president for the era of tabloid TV and run-amok Web sites, for he has spent a career being the screen on which the world projected its fantasies. For William Bennett and the right, he was the symbol of post-‘60s amorality; for Christopher Hitchens, a metaphor for the hypocrisies and bankruptcies of the liberal left; for Monica, the dream lover who gave her Leaves of Grass (which he also gave Hillary); for Kenneth Starr, the great white whale. In The Natural, Klein offers a portrait of a lavishly gifted Clinton, whose promise may have exceeded his actual accomplishment (sort of a Fitzgerald who never wrote The Great Gatsby) but who still deserves praise for keeping the New Democrat faith. That is, when Joe Klein looks at Bill Clinton, he sees -- Joe Klein.