The Flytrap Blame Game

Politics and policy.
Aug. 29 1998 3:30 AM

The Flytrap Blame Game

Who really deserves sympathy? And who doesn't? Slate keeps score.

One of the few truths universally acknowledged about Flytrap is that presidential secretary Betty Currie deserves our sympathy: an honest, loyal civil servant dragooned into a scandal she had nothing to do with.

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But does Currie deserve such sanctification? After all, she knew Clinton's history when she took her job then enabled Clinton's sleaziness anyway. She stood by while Clinton cuckolded his wife and perhaps even helped him commit obstruction of justice. And did she protest? Not as far as we have heard. Did she quit on principle? No. Currie may not be Flytrap's chief malefactor, but nor is she the saintly innocent that the American public believes her to be.

David Plotz David Plotz

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

The Currie case suggests that Flytrap needs a moral recalibration.

Monica Lewinsky, for example, has fantastically low approval ratings, much lower than Clinton's. One poll I saw pegged her favorability rating at 5 percent (even Newt Gingrich manages at least 25 percent). Now, Monica certainly isn't the heroine of Flytrap. She did seduce a married man, damage the presidency for the sake of casual sex, lie frequently and insouciantly, and blab her "secret" affair to anyone who'd listen. But she was also sexually exploited by her older, sleazy boss; had her reputation smeared by Clinton's lackeys; and was betrayed by her "friend" Linda Tripp. She hardly deserves such universal contempt.

Others besides Currie have benefited from the public's excessive generosity. George Stephanopoulos has become a white knight of Flytrap, the former Clinton aide who had the courage to turn on his boss. And bravo to George for chastising Clinton! But it smacks of hypocrisy for Stephanopoulos to "discover" in 1998 that Clinton is a lying, womanizing dog. He has, after all known this since 1992. Back then Stephanopoulos himself helped quell bimbo eruptions and parroted Clinton's lying denials. He has never shouldered blame for those deceptions. (Mickey Kaus first noted Stephanopoulos' unbearable sanctimony in this "Chatterbox" item in January.) And while loyalty isn't a universal good, it was opportunistic for Stephanopoulos to betray Clinton just at the moment Clinton's stock was about to plunge.

(Sometimes, of course, the public's rating is dead on target. Linda Tripp's allies--a group that includes her lawyers, Kenneth Starr, the Goldberg family, and absolutely no one else as far as I can tell--have tried repeatedly to improve her sorry public image. Jonah Goldberg tried right here in Slate. No sale.)

Below is Slate's entire scorecard, which ranks 31 of Flytrap's key players: The scale runs from -10 to +10. Anything less than zero means the player is a net miscreant. Anything above zero rates a sympathy card. (This is not, of course, an exact science. How, for example, do we judge Ann Lewis compared to other last ditch Clinton defenders? Lewis is said to be more outraged by Clinton's misbehavior than The Guys in the White House. Yet Lewis didn't quit in disgust. Is her outrage a plus or a minus if she doesn't act on it? You decide.)

The Scorecard

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty

Bill Clinton (The public's rating: -6)

Minuses:

To recapitulate

a) Had an adulterous affair with a young intern.

b) Lied about it to everyone.

c) Probably perjured himself.

d) Perhaps obstructed justice.

e) Entangled allies and aides in his web of deceit.

f) Humiliated his wife and daughter.

g) Did not have the grace to apologize to Lewinsky.

h)Tried to shift the blame for his failures onto his accusers.