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.

Pluses:

a) Had his private life exposed to the world in a way no one's should be.

b) Has been persecuted by enemies who won't be satisfied until he is destroyed.

Slate rating--He never asked for our sympathy, and he doesn't deserve it: -9

Dick Morris (The public's rating: -6)

Minuses:

a) Encouraged Clinton's most deplorable habits: lying and polling. (When Clinton revealed his adultery to Morris, the political consultant immediately took a poll to see how America would respond to a Clinton admission. When the results suggested Americans would be angry if Clinton had perjured himself, Morris encouraged Clinton to deny the affair.)

b) Further sullied the Clintons with a revolting comment suggesting that Clinton cheats because Hillary is a lesbian.

c) Not even loyal enough to keep his mouth shut.

Pluses: I cannot think of any.

Slate rating: -7

Linda Tripp (The public's rating: -7)

Minuses:

a) Betrayed her "friend."

b) Obsessively nosed into the private lives of others.

c) Tried to score a book deal off sex gossip and other people's distress.

d) Tattletale.

Pluses:

a) Whistleblower (see d under Minuses): risked humiliation to expose something she believed was wrong.

b) Smeared mercilessly by Clinton allies, the media.

Slate rating: -7

James Carville (The public's rating: -1)

Minuses:

a) Has known about Clinton's woman problem since 1992.

b) Happily parroted Clinton's denial despite knowing that Clinton was a deceitful womanizer.

c) Has not expressed the slightest chagrin or disappointment since Clinton's apology.

d) Has not retreated from vicious attacks on Starr, despite evidence of Clinton's lies.

Pluses:

a) Perfectly loyal.

b) Consistent in attacks against Starr.

Slate rating: -5

Bruce Lindsey (The public's rating: To be determined)

Minuses:

a) Not yet known what he did to protect Clinton from the Lewinsky affair. Early signs suggest he knew a lot and helped clean it up.

Pluses:

a) Unquestionably loyal to his boss.

b) Silent.

Slate rating--Not enough information to make a clean guess: Approx -5

Vernon Jordan (The public's rating: +3)

Minuses:

a) May have known and must have suspected that Lewinsky was a mistress (given that he and Clinton are confidants, it's hard to believe that Jordan was totally in the dark about her).

b) Protected too readily by Washington establishment.

Pluses:

a) May have helped Lewinsky simply because he's bighearted and generous not because she was the president's lover.

Slate rating: -4

Sidney Blumenthal (The public's rating: -3)

Minuses:

a) Spun the president's denial for months without bothering to check if it was true.

b) Pushed for Clinton to be aggressive rather than contrite during his speech.

c) Trumpeted Clinton's denial but has not expressed chagrin now that Clinton has admitted his lies.

Pluses:

a) Consistent in belief that Starr is an ideologue and that the sex charges are political.

b) Loyal.

Slate rating: -3

Lanny Davis (The public's rating: -1)

Minuses:

a) Spun the president's denial for months without bothering to check if it was true.

b) Said for seven months that we'd have to "wait and see." Then, when Clinton finally admitted his lies, Davis was hardly embarrassed or critical of the president.

Pluses:

a) Loyalty to old boss.

Slate rating: -3

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty

George Stephanopoulos (The public's rating: +4)

Minuses:

a) Hypocritical for him to "discover" in 1998 that Clinton is a lying dog. After all, he knew that Clinton was a lech in 1992 and helped cover it up. Yet he has never shouldered responsibility for the lies Clinton told then.

b) Disloyal to turn on old boss as viciously as he has in past few weeks.

Pluses:

a) Had courage to turn on old boss and criticize his moral lapses.

b) Urged Clinton to be fully contrite.

Slate rating: -2

Betty Currie (The public's rating: +8)

Minuses:

a) Abetted adulterous affair.

b) May have abetted obstruction of justice.

c) Knew what she was getting into when she took the job so can't be excused on grounds of naiveté.

d) Did not quit on principle.

Pluses:

a) Reputation for honesty.

b) Probably dragooned into cover-up against her will.

Slate rating: -2

Paul Begala (The public's rating: 0)

Minuses:

a) Spun the president's denial for months without bothering to check if it was true.

b) Did not quit on principle after Clinton admitted lies.

Pluses:

a) Urged president to be contrite and wrote excellent, sufficiently apologetic speech.

b) Loyal.

Slate rating: -2

Rahm Emanuel (The public's rating: -1)

Minuses and Pluses:

Same as Begala (except Emanuel didn't write the speech).

Slate rating: -2

Ann Lewis (The public's rating: -1)

Minuses and Pluses:

Same as Emanuel, except Lewis seems more morally outraged with Clinton than other White House aides.

Slate rating: -2

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty

Monica Lewinsky (The public's rating: -9)

Minuses:

a) Seduced a married man.

b) Damaged and endangered the presidency for the sake of casual sex.

c) Has lied frequently.

d) Is a capable adult, not--as her advocates claim--a naive child, defenseless against the president's wiles.

e) Protected herself with immunity when she needed to, even though her testimony would do enormous harm to Clinton and the nation.

f) Blabbed her "secret" affair to lots of people. (So, while she was dragged into the scandal against her will, it was her own loquaciousness that made the dragging possible.)

Pluses:

a) Sexually exploited by her older boss.

b) Had her reputation smeared by Clintonistas and the media.

c) Betrayed by Linda Tripp.

d) Dragged into the scandal against her will.

Slate rating: -2

Mike McCurry (The public's rating: +2)

Minuses:

a) Spun and spun and spun the president's denial for months without bothering to check if it was true.

Pluses:

a) Was clearly dismayed by the entire scandal and his role in it.

b) Is quitting the administration (though not, apparently, on principle).

c) Loyal.

Slate rating: -1

David Kendall (The public's rating: 0)

Minuses:

a) Relied on iffy legalisms to help Clinton escape trouble.

Pluses:

a) Relying on iffy legalisms to help Clinton escape trouble is his job. He's a lawyer.

b) Admirably reticent, compared to Robert Bennett.

Slate rating: -1

The Rev. Jesse Jackson (The public's rating: +2)

Minuses:

a) Revealed Clinton family troubles immediately after his pastoral visit.

b) Parlayed pastoral visit into a week of self-promotion.

Pluses:

a) Graciously counseled a political rival in time of need.

b) Did not demand any political compensation in exchange.

Slate rating: -1

Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga. (The public's rating: -5)

Minuses:

a) Unapologetically vicious, partisan, and unforgiving in his impeachment quest.

Pluses:

a) Consistent throughout the scandal: He has been pushing impeachment since before Monica materialized in January.

Slate rating: 0

Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty

Kenneth Starr (The public's rating: -9)

Minuses:

a) Seems merciless toward Clinton.

b) Has pursued investigation into Clinton's private life with more zeal than seems appropriate.

c) Is too willing to provoke constitutional standoffs for the sake of his investigation, seems indifferent to the dignity of the presidency.

Pluses:

a) Was right about Clinton and Lewinsky.

b) Is compelled by law to investigate diligently and forcefully.

c) Has been patient with the stonewalling, deceiving Clinton.

Slate rating: +1

Paula Jones (The public's rating: -5)

Minuses:

a) Brought a legally dubious, gold-digging lawsuit.

b) Resisted a settlement that would have saved the nation much embarrassment.

c) Happily became a tool for Clinton's enemies.

Pluses:

a) Is vindicated because Clinton probably did it.

b) Forced Clinton's lechery out in the open.

c) Persisted in the face of ridicule and humiliation.

Slate rating: +1

The American People (The public's rating: +7)

Minuses:

a) Hypocritically claim to despise scandal, follow it breathlessly, then blame the media for obsessing over it.

b) Are secretly fascinated by the sleaziness of it.

Pluses:

a) Magnanimous toward the president.

Slate rating: +1

The Media (The public's rating: -8)

Minuses:

a) No sense of proportionality. Coverage is wretchedly excessive even when it shouldn't be.

b) Endlessly self-involved. How many stories have you seen about the media and the scandal?

c) Unforgiving. The media want the scandal to continue, hence won't ever be satisfied that Clinton has suffered enough.

Pluses:

a) Worked hard to break a very important story and investigated the hell out of it.

b) Unfairly savaged by hypocritical American people (see above).

Slate rating: +1

Leon Panetta (The public's rating: +1)

Minuses:

a) Slightly disloyal to old boss.

b) May have known about Clinton's extracurricular activities, yet turned a blind eye.

c) On television too much.

Pluses:

a) Urged Clinton early on to come clean.

b) Had good sense to leave the White House before corrupting himself.

Slate rating: +1

Hillary Clinton (The public's rating: +4)

Minuses:

a) Knew what a lech he was, yet always protected him.

b) May have always known truth about Lewinsky, yet still lied to protect Bill.

c) Chose aggressive, political strategy over contrition.

Pluses:

a) Lied to, betrayed, and cuckolded by husband.

b) Personally humiliated.

c) May have disgraced her own good name by echoing his denials on the Today show.

Slate rating--She made a Faustian bargain, but you still feel sorry for Faust: +2

Al Gore (The public's rating: +3)

Minuses:

a) Did not (apparently) urge the president to come clean with American people.

Pluses:

a) Stayed loyal.

b) Did not take advantage of scandal to burnish his own image.

Slate rating: +2

Kathleen Willey (The public's rating: 0)

Minuses:

a) Was in it for the money (told her story partly in order to land a book contract).

Pluses:

a) Seems to have told story honestly and forthrightly.

b) Reluctantly dragged into scandal.

c) Was victimized by Clinton.

Slate rating: +2

The Clinton Cabinet (The public's rating: +2)

Minuses:

a) Spun his denials without digging for the truth.

b) Did not quit on principle.

Pluses:

a) Were conscripted unwillingly into scandal defense. (Unlike political aides such as Begala, who are expected to do political dirty work, the Cabinet members are public servants who should be kept away from such sleaze.)

b) Were lied to by Clinton.

c) Loyal.

Slate rating: +3

Erskine Bowles (The public's rating: Doesn't care)

Minuses:

a) Refused to involve himself in the critical issue of the presidency.

b) Stood aside while White House was shanghaied by lawyers.

Pluses:

a) Stayed utterly silent about the scandal, clearly disgusted by it all.

b) Kept the rest of the administration focused on policy, thus preventing total executive paralysis.

c) Did not lie or spin for the president.

Slate rating: +4

Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill. (The public's rating: +4)

Minuses:

There are none yet.

Pluses:

a) (Mostly) kept his mouth shut and prevented the House Judiciary Committee from jumping the gun on impeachment.

Slate rating: +4

Secret Service (The public's rating: +8)

Minuses:

a) Fought Starr subpoena too hard because it considers itself the Praetorian Guard.

Pluses:

a) Dragged unwillingly into scandal by Clinton (unlike Currie or his political aides, the Secret Service agents have no choice about being near the president).

b) Testified honestly but unwillingly, as they should.

c) Did not leak.

Slate rating: +5

Chelsea Clinton (The public's rating: +10)

Minuses:

There are none.

Pluses:

a) Humiliated and embarrassed by her father's misbehavior.

b) Had family problems paraded before the world in a way they should not be.

c) Has been endlessly psychologized by the media.

d) Had her summer vacation ruined.

Slate rating: +10

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