Flytrap Goes for Baroque

Aug. 8 1998 3:30 AM

Flytrap Goes for Baroque

A roundup of Lewinsky conspiracy theories.

It is a popular view among pundits that Flytrap has entered what they like to call its "endgame." But I think the scandal has moved into a very different phase: the Baroque.

Here's what I mean. Flytrap as a journalistic enterprise is in a holding pattern. Everyone is waiting--for leaks about Monica Lewinsky's testimony, for the DNA tests, for Clinton's grand jury day. There is a vacuum of genuinely new information.

David Plotz David Plotz

David Plotz is the editor of Slate. He's the author of The Genius Factory and Good Book.

Punditry abhors a vacuum. So, in the absence of news, journalists and analysts are concocting ever more ornate theories to explain what could be happening, sculpting the long available info into gaudy new patterns. Some of these theories are based on intelligent guesswork. Some belong to the "I have a friend who has a friend who talked to the president who said ..." school. Some are malicious rumor. Some are wishful thinking. Some may even have a tenuous relationship to an actual fact. But, at bottom, all are founded on essentially the same knowledge base: none.

The result: spectacular theories, tales decorated with filigree and gilded rosettes and stucco clouds. Since these may be the final few days before real new facts about Flytrap emerge, let's take a last chance to revel in the Baroque. Having spent the past few days collecting theories from colleagues, sources, and other scandalholics, I offer you a few of the best (divided into appropriate categories).

The "She Still Loves Him" Theories

1) The main source of leaks about the dress, the answering machine messages, the talking points, and Monica's testimony is none other than Monica herself (through her lawyers). Why would she leak? Because she still adores him, and she wants to signal him about how he can protect himself when he testifies.

2) Monica is testifying only because she wants to force Clinton to admit their love affair to the world.

3) The dress is a sham. There are no stains. Monica gave it to Starr to discredit his investigation and save Clinton.

Other Theories About the Dress Not Contingent on Monica Loving Him

1) Monica, ever imaginative, bragged about the dress to Linda Tripp even though it was just an ordinary dress. When Starr negotiated with her, he asked about it. Monica then used the dress as a bargaining chip to guarantee her full immunity, even though she knew there was nothing on it. Since she has full immunity, it doesn't hurt her if it's bogus.

2) There is semen on the dress, but it's not Clinton's. Monica, in her usual mendacious way, lied to Tripp about it.

3) FBI agents leaked the existence of the dress as a favor to Secret Service agents. They wanted to signal the agents that there is plenty of damning evidence of an affair, so that the agents would know not to lie to protect Clinton.

Wag the Dog Theories

There are, believe it or not, four separate scenarios suggesting that Clinton may use a war abroad to distract attention from his war at home. Kosovo, Iraq (thanks to artfully timed obstinacy by Saddam Hussein), and India-Pakistan are subjects of the widest speculation. My favorite Wag the Dog target is St. Kitts, a Caribbean island where a local drug dealer (Charles "Little Nut" Miller) has threatened to murder American students at the island's veterinary school if the United States tries to extradite him. St. Kitts = Clinton's Grenada.

The Hillary Theories

1) Clinton wants to apologize but is afraid to because he never told Hillary about Monica. (She did not mind his Gennifer Flowers affair, because she knew about it.) Clinton fears she will hate/divorce/abandon/kill him if he admits the affair.

2) Very similar to "Hillary Theory 1": Hillary won't let him apologize because she has spent so much of her own credibility defending him ("vast right-wing conspiracy," etc.). She refuses to be made to look like a gullible fool.

The Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory

Lewinsky belonged to a devious, long-term Republican conspiracy with, as one advocate of the theory puts it, "instructions to orally seduce the president in order to assure positive transfer of his semen (positive proof of sexual acts) on an article of her clothing." Thus she kept the dress, knowing that her affair was going to be made public by her good friend Linda Tripp months later, and she would have a chance to produce the dress as evidence.

The Non-Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory

Last fall (months before her existence was revealed to the public), a Secret Service officer warned Bob Dole to avoid a neighbor in the Watergate named Monica Lewinsky. The officer told Dole that Lewinsky and Clinton had had an affair and that Dole should take special care not to be seen or photographed with her, because it would lend credence to theories that the affair is a right-wing conspiracy and that Monica was a bimbo plant.

The Mea Culpa Theories

1) The White House has already contacted the networks to reserve television time (on either Aug. 16 or Aug. 17) for a Clinton apology.

2) White House staffers, including Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, are contacting members of Congress to see how they would react to a mea culpa.

The Internal Dissent Theories

1) A corollary to "Mea Culpa 2" above. White House staffers are not contacting members of Congress about a mea culpa, but they are leaking the story that they are contacting members. They are doing this to pressure Clinton to apologize. They must use the media and rumor to communicate with the president, because they are not allowed to talk to him about Flytrap directly.

2) Bruce Lindsey is about to turn on Clinton to save himself. Or, more plausibly, Lindsey just had back surgery in order to delay his testimony. Now he won't testify till after Clinton, giving Lindsey a chance to mold his story to support the president.

Some of the conspiracies are so peculiar, so much the product of an alien genius that they can't be categorized. These come untouched from the inky void of Flytrap, both courtesy of Slate readers:

1) The Starr investigation is not focusing on Lewinsky and obstruction of justice. It is really concerned with White House drug use. Tripp testified for eight days, because she was providing evidence about narcotics.

2) Clinton is not planning either to apologize or to fight the Lewinsky allegations. In fact, having implemented his entire political agenda and revived the economy, he is preparing to resign.

Remember what comes after the Baroque era: the Enlightenment.

A final note on another subject. During her 20 second press briefing (that's a briefing!) last night, Lewinsky spokeswoman Judy Smith offered this absurd bit of one-upmanship. Monica, declared Smith, testified "truthfully, completely, and honestly."

Why is this significant? Clinton, you see, promised only to testify "completely and truthfully." What about "honestly," Mr. President?