Lucianne Goldberg died last week at the grand age of eighty-seven, and still the eponymous proprietrix of Lucianne.com, an early conservative news aggregator and one I continue to enjoy. A quarter-century ago, she became one of the most famous figures in America, as the confidante who persuaded Linda Tripp to tape her conversations with Monica Lewinsky and thus set in motion the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
I can't claim to have been a close friend, but John Podhoretz's affectionate portrait accords with my own trio of brief interactions. She was tough, and she survived the Clintonites' efforts to destroy her, as she had survived the efforts of others through the decades: At one point, she announced she would be selling by auction a letter she had in her possession from Jacqueline Kennedy to Lady Bird Johnson. After Mrs Kennedy objected, Lucianne returned the missive. Too late. The following day she learned the IRS would be auditing her. Upon first hearing this story, I was a sufficiently recent arrival and naïve enough to be shocked at the corruption that infests almost every aspect of American life. But I doubt she ever was.
For its New Year issue of 1999, The American Enterprise brought together Mrs Goldberg and yours truly with Andrew Ferguson to look back at the preceding twelve months - the Year of Monica. Much of it seems very trivial now, for we did not know we were in the last three years of America's "holiday from history". But some observations contain the seeds of hideous growths that afflict us to this day. Lucianne had most of the best lines, even if they didn't all make the final cut. My observations on the non-penetrative aspects of lesbianism prompted much scoffing from her on my unworldliness about sapphic sex, to which I riposted that I was talking about public perception of the act and said that I was well aware that there was an active faction in lesbianism that regarded the simulacrum of penetration as a concession to the phallocracy, to which she responded with some observations on the simulacrum versus the real thing... We batted it across the table like Olympic ping-pong for a while, but it was all too strong meat for The American Enterprise.
It was an enjoyable couple of hours, and I feel sad that it was the last time I was in her presence. Here's how The American Enterprise (which I see is no longer with us) set it up:
To make sense of the tumultuous year 1998, The American Enterprise assembled three seasoned observers of folly: Lucianne Goldberg, literary agent best known for her friendship with Linda Tripp; Mark Steyn, columnist for The American Spectator and the London Spectator; and Andrew Ferguson, senior editor at the Weekly Standard and a former Bush administration speechwriter. The three took off like conversational greyhounds on subjects ranging from "that woman, Ms. Lewinsky" to World War II. TAE senior editor Scott Walter served as ringmaster amidst the sawdust of the Harvard Club in New York City:
TAE: Who was the year's worst actor?
STEYN: Bill Clinton. He has the indestructibility of the true ham. But I don't mind Bill Clinton venturing into acting; I mind when actors venture into other things. I can't believe Michael Douglas, who played President Andrew Shepherd in The American President - on which Bill Clinton modeled his bombing strategies - is now going around in charge of a disarmament campaign. He thinks nuclear proliferation is dangerous, and he thinks the fact that he's a celebrity will end it. But I don't know whether they liked Fatal Attraction in North Korea.
TAE: Best or worst book of the year?
FERGUSON:The best book, obviously,was the Starr Report. The book is filled with so many beautiful and illuminating details.
GOLDBERG: Like how angry Monica was that she gave him Vox and he didn't read it. He said, "I'm only up to chapter three," and she was furious because there are no chapters in the book.
STEYN: That's Clinton, isn't it? Such an unnecessary lie.
FERGUSON: Their sexual encounters are what you'd expect from a 15-year-old couple going out behind the garage when Mom and Dad aren't looking, not really sure what they can get away with.
STEYN: When reading the Starr report, just put your hand over who's speaking and try to guess whether it's Bill or Monica. Often Bill sounds like the 21-year-old.
GOLDBERG Mind you, he did all of this with the door open -
FERGUSON - hoping to get caught, just the way a 15-year-old would. And he pouts to her on the phone, "If I'd known what kind of person you were, I never would have gotten involved with you."
TAE: Is there anything you would have told Starr if you were his editor?
GOLDBERG: No. The minutiae of it was, to me, like doing needlepoint. I couldn't get enough. It's like eating chocolate-covered popcorn.
STEYN: The problem wasn't the Starr report. It was a huge best-seller in Britain, and the British press loved it. If you had that kind of press in this country, I think Clinton would have been gone in a week. There is a gentility in the American media, which could barely mention cigars, while papers in London would have been having
free cigar giveaways. Unfortunately, it was the wrong report for the country.
FERGUSON: Although Starr got slammed for his salacious detail, there is clearly a lot left out that I, for one, am dying to know.
STEYN: One day there will be, "The Starr Report: The Director's Cut,"and we'll get to see the whole damn thing.
GOLDBERG: If they would let Linda Tripp's tapes go, we could hear a lot of that now.
TAE: What about the reports the Tripp tapes were copied and possibly doctored?
GOLDBERG: They weren't tampered with. A few of the tapes were taped over; they had something else on them. I think Linda is such a techno-spaz that she just grabbed tapes out of this big bowl she kept them in, and she probably taped over some of the early Monica phone calls.
TAE: Mr. Steyn said Clinton would have been driven from office quickly if he'd been in Europe. Yet we hear it said Europeans are laughing at us for even caring about his affairs.
STEYN: In most British Commonwealth countries he'd be gone, because being a laughingstock, a buffoon, is enough. Just last week in Britain, the Secretary of State for Wales picked up a guy in London, who took him to a park where he was supposed to meet a man for sex - that happened on Monday. The Secretary was gone by Wednesday.
GOLDBERG: When you say "gone,"do they go out of their own sense of decency?Because we don't have that in the States.
STEYN: That's true. In this country you have a strange monarchical reverence for the institution that the British don't have. They have that healthy vulgarian glee in seeing a grandee slip on a banana skin.
GOLDBERG I'm convinced that the root of Clinton's quest for power was to get better chicks. I remember back in the early days of NOW [the National Organization for Women], guys were joining, and I would say, "What are you, nuts?" But the guys fig- ured NOW was made up of loose girls so let's join NOW.
FERGUSON People like me, stuffed shirts, will say, "How could a man have spent his entire life seeking an office and then risk it by having a dalliance with some young girl to whom he was supposed to be acting in loco parentis?" Apparently he wanted the office specifically so he could have rights over a girl who would drop to her knees without having to be talked to for the first four dates.
TAE: Lowest media moment of the year?
GOLDBERG: All of "Geraldo." Wall to wall.
TAE: Have you been on "Geraldo"?
GOLDBERG: I won't do "Geraldo."I get mash notes from Geraldo because he's like Clinton: He zeroes in on that one person who doesn't like him who he wants to have like him.
FERGUSON: I thought the media's lowest moment was the retirement of Michael McCurry, the President's spokesman and extremely genial liar, who was paid to stand up in front of the press corps and keep information from coming out. You have 40 journalists who work in the White House, are fed like animals in a zoo, and who grew to love their zoo keeper. It was a classic case of the Stockholm syndrome. They grew to love their captor so much that they brought him out a cake on the day he left and cheered andsaid "Mike is the best there is."
GOLDBERG: And then he goes to work for CNN, the Clinton News Network.
TAE: Who would be MVP of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy?
STEYN: I wish there was a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, but it seems to be a one-woman show, Lucianne.
GOLDBERG: Well, no. There's also FreeRepublic.com, who for a long time were almost the only ones who supported Linda Tripp after she came forward. Here was a woman whose physical appearance was being brutalized by people so politically correct that if you said something nasty about mosquitoes, they'd be on you for violating insect rights. Yet they had no qualms about calling her fat, ugly, gross, duplicitous, the most hated woman in America. Please. She's not an ax murderer.
FERGUSON: She's not even particularly conservative.
GOLDBERG: She's an independent. She's a bureaucrat. And she happens to be a very attractive woman. There's nothing wrong with her appearance. I mean, Mandy Grunwald? If you're going to go that route, I'll see your Linda Tripp and raise you one Mandy Grunwald.
FERGUSON: I remember Linda's politics because I worked with her at the Bush White House. One late night she said, "You know, I'm not even sure I'm going to vote for Bush." She's a textbook example of a whistleblower who becomes vilified by the people who created the term "whistleblower."
GOLDBERG: I'll tell you, she's not a whiner. At one point I said, "Linda, would you do it again?"And she said, "In a heartbeat." She has never wavered, never whined, unlike the other side. She does not see herself as a victim. She sees this as temporary hell.
STEYN: I think the better you know Clinton the more you loathe him. That would seem to be a fairly general rule. And that's the difficulty. Because the American electorate don't often get to see him in the raw.
FERGUSON: You have to watch Clinton day in and day out to understand the depth of his loathsomeness.This is why the Beltway media turned against Clinton. If it's your business to wake up every day and monitor what is coming out of the White House, you become appalled. But for most people, politics is not terribly interesting. They don't really care what their President is doing as long as he's not screwing them. You just tune in every once in a while." Oh,there's the President with his new initiative about banning deadbeat dads from being allowed to have guns. That sounds like a good idea."And then you turn off again and go about raising your children and doing your work.
STEYN: There's a nonpolitical majority in the country now. If you're in Washington
you're watching C-SPANand MSNBC, but everyone else is watching the Weather Channel or the Old Movies Channel or the Wainscoting Channel.
TAE: Does America deserve Clinton?
GOLDBERG: Absolutely. They re-elected him, they deserve him, let them eat cake.
STEYN: Before you start blaming either the public or the Clintonistas, remember there is a third player here, the Republican leadership. Not one of them in the impeachment debates has said anything coherent, moving, rising to the standard of the occasion -
GOLDBERG: - like Senator Lieberman from the Democratic side.
STEYN: That's the real problem.
FERGUSON: I think we're trying to explain the Clinton gang in normal categories, and usually when people are successful, we ascribe it to intelligence or cunning, but I think the source of the Clintonistas' power is shamelessness to a degree never seen in public life before. They will say anything to accomplish their ends, and that's a tremendous power. It's almost as though the chattering classes and the Republican leadership are so astonished that they're utterly disarmed by it.
TAE Does the election of Jesse "The Body" Ventura mean anything for our two-party system?
FERGUSON: I worry that the Republicans in their infinite wisdom are going to draw precisely the wrong conclusions from this. Reasoning that JesseVentura used to wear a feather boa in his previous career they'll nominate Carol Channing for President in 2000, or something. The fact is, Ventura ran on a not-ludicrous platform. He talked about taxes, and Minnesota is a very heavily taxed state. I would have voted for him over Hubert Humphrey III. I would have voted for him over Hubert Humphrey the first.
TAE It's being argued in the press today that the Republican party has become too Southern, too religious, too conservative, and that's why it isn't doing well.
STEYN: Well compared to what? They were pathetic in the election, but they weren't wiped out. I don't think you can say they're too Southern or too conservative. They're just nothing. They're this big wobbling heap of Jell-O in the middle of the table.
GOLDBERG:And they can't even turn out their core constituency. I mean, they weren't busing hymn-singing Southerners to the polls. Where are these people when we need them?
FERGUSON. Well, maybe they don't exist. This idea that a large chunk of insur-
gents have taken over the Republican party is absurd. It's a left-wing fantasy, a
nightmare they wish would come true.
TAE: Some on the right have argued that conservatives are too anti-government,
and that instead we ought to focus on positive ways we could use the govern-
ment: "Big Government Conservatism" or "National Greatness Conservatism."
STEYN: We've got enough of that. I'm very sorry this guy got beaten up and tied to a fence in Wyoming, but for Orrin Hatch to then say we need federal hate crimes legislation is completely ridiculous. What is the point of electing Republican senators to say things like that? What is the point of electing Republican senators who say, "We have no argument with President Clinton about the $1.1 billion for 100,000 new teachers - it's just that we want it to be spent slightly differently."
The winning formula for Republicans ought to be that more power should be devolved to the states, and beyond that more power should be devolved to county and town and school districts, because when it's your neighbor who's sticking you with high taxes, you get mad about it, and that acts as a natural constraint on the neighbor.
When it's miles away in Washington it sounds all fluffy and cuddly and cozy, and the Republicans are absolutely hopeless at finding a national strategy to combat that touchy-feely stuff from the Clinton side.The national government even now is Democratic, with the Republicans being dragged along. But state government in America is essentially Republican, with a few canny Democrats being dragged in the Republican direction. Maybe it's time for the Republicans to get out of federal elections altogether and just stay home.
To the media, practically every form of Republican is an obvious fruitcake. If Representative Susan Molinari had been elected leader of the House, her Mary Tyler Moore image would have been demolished quickly, and she'd be presented as an "ex-
treme" right-wing crazy.
GOLDBERG: Isn't Big Government Conservatism an oxymoron?
FERGUSON:No, there is such a thing as Big Government Conservatism: It's called Clintonism. It's about big government that deploys its considerable powers in very small,specified ways to drum up a billion dollars for 100,000 teachers, to require safety locks on guns. There is no other kind of conservatism in Wash ington anymore.
STEYN: The Clinton issues are things that are not within the federal government's jurisdiction. He wanted to allocate $4 billion to school roofs. Why roofs?
FERGUSON: The wainscoting in America's schools is a national disgrace! And lat- tices.We need more lattices in our schools.
STEYN: Clinton has done something remarkable. Instead of growing to fit the office, he's shrunk the office to fit him. He says he wishes he'd been President during World War I1 so he could have risen to the occasion.
GOLDBERG: We'd all be speaking German.
STEYN: Madeleine Albright would be saying, "We've reached this bilateral agree- ment with Adolf Hitler, and he'll be stationing troops in Bermuda."
TAE: The President's Commission on Race promised us a full and frank dialogue
on the subject but delivered tired cliches. Will truths about race ever be sayable in this country?
STEYN: What I find so ridiculous is that [African-American novelist] Toni Morrison says Clinton is our first black President - because he's from a single-parent household, likes junk food, and plays the saxophone. She left out eats watermelon. He's about as black as Pat Boone. It's the world's greatest minstrel act.
TAE Why is the entertainment industry ramming lesbians down our throats today?
STEYN: I think I speak for most men when I say I wouldn't mind lesbians being rammed down our throats. But it's true, lesbians were last year's thing.
FERGUSON: Lesbians are hot because men like them. This is Howard Stern's great cultural insight: Lesbians equal ratings. Do you think that a male version of "Ellen" in which she had her celebrated kiss with another woman, could have been done? Do
you think all of America would have tuned in to watch two guys kiss each other?Who do you think tuned in to watch Ellen get her kiss? Men.
GOLDBERG: Men like the idea; it's we heterosexual women who are offended.
STEYN: The strategy in Hollywood is to desexualize gays. Lesbians come a little further ahead on the list because there's no icky penetration involved. But gay men are also fashionable in Hollywood at the moment: all these ludicrous films about straight women and gay men. They're desexualized gay men: Hollywood is not yet ready to champion anything approaching an honest version of homosexuality. If you looked at all the TV movies about AIDS over the last 15 years, you would have thought that gay male sex was absolutely the last way you could have caught it.
FERGUSON: I would think that gay activists would find the exfoliation of gay characters on sit-coms offensive, because they are now the equivalent of Rochester on the Jack Benny show. TV's gay man is socially insecure, witty, has a mysterious private life. They are all alike.
GOLDBERG But that's the way heterosexual women experience gays. We don't know about their sex life. They don't talk about it. They're great fun to be with. They're witty. There are all those stereotypes.
STEYN: Even in Ogunquit, Maine, a very gay-friendly town where many fastidious gay couples spend happy weekends antiquing, the gay rights referenda lose. America is happy to have the sort of gal's-best-friend gay, but they're not ready to go beyond that.
TAE: Does anyone have a criticism of Saving Private Ryan?
STEYN: There's one moment where Tom Hanks actually says, "Oh, well, maybe sav- ing Private Ryan is the one good thing to come out of this lousy war."
TAE: There are 12 more movies in production on World War I1 in Hollywood. One Vietnam veteran I know is struggling to have a good Viet nam movie made and wonders, "Why do these baby-boomer draft dodgers love to make World War I1 hero movies?"
GOLDBERG: It's just a natural tendency to secretly realize where the heroes are and go looking for them, hoping some of it will splatter on you. Remember Clinton walking across the White House lawn, flanked by uniformed officers and flags? Or in Omaha Beach, where he made the cross out of seashells that they had conveniently put there? It's all a scam,but the administration knows what real people consider worthwhile, and they want to get a little slice of it.
FERGUSON: I'm not cynical about this. All of my friends' parents were in the service in World War II, and my father was, and they were heroes. Maybe this is just a very delayed but sweet and innocent rediscovery that gosh, they really were an amazing generation.
GOLDBERG: There are still people living among us who put country above everything.
STEYN: I think there's also some baby-boomer enviousness of the veterans, who went through something big that younger people haven't. What's funny is the way Spielberg has almost been accorded the status of a war hero himself just by making a movie about the war. We can't distinguish between the actual and the simulation anymore. Some Democrat introducing Bill Clinton in the Midwest had the nerve to say, "This man has been battle-tested." Bill Clinton is famously un-battle-tested.
FERGUSON I remember an amazing moment at the 1996 White House Correspondents' dinner. Al Franken,who is in Clinton's pocket, was giving his little schtick, and the President was right next to him. Everyone knew Bob Dole was going to be running against the President that fall, and Franken told a joke about being interviewed by a Danish reporter who said, "Senator Dole is so old. How can you vote for a man who's so old?"And Franken said, "Well,look, he was young enough to save your sorry ass."
This room full of baby boomers, none of whom, I can guarantee you, went on to vote for Bob Dole, stood up, en masse; the President was beaming at this - our first President who went halfway around the world to avoid being in the military. That's getting it on the cheap: If we stand up and cheer Bob Dole because he really was a man and left a quarter of his body back at Anzio, we think that somehow reflects well on us baby boomers.
STEYN: When Spielberg was asked what good came out of World War II he said, Well, it produced the baby boomer generation, and I think we've done a lot of good.
GOLDBERG: Andy, that was the same dinner where [talk show host] Don Imus got vilified, right?
TAE: The press was outraged, not because he said a few tame things about Bubba, but because he joked about Sam Donaldson's toupee and Peter Jennings needing a V-chip in his pants.
FERGUSON: He had a great line about Ed Bradley's little earring: "Ed, you're a newsman, not a pirate."
GOLDBERG: Imus's finest moment.
TAE: This year's tobacco legislation was shot down by the Republicans. Does this mean neo-puritanism is on the ropes?
STEYN: It's the most pointless kind of gesture politics. In Burlington, Vermont, the city passed an ordinance saying cigarettes have to be sealed in a case, and you're not allowed to have any kind of labeling or advertisements on display. You have to go in and ask for them the way 20 years ago you would have to go to the back of the store and ask for the transsexual dating magazine.
Statistically, the big health problem in this country is not tobacco but food. If you want to wage war on anything, you should be waging war on Burger King and Dunkin' Donuts.
FERGUSON: Don't give them any ideas. One salutary thing about the demonization of tobacco is that maybe when my kid gets into high school and he wants to be really naughty, instead of shooting up heroin he may just go buy a pack of Camels.
TAE Do too many people go to grad school?
FERGUSON: Yes, like me.
STEYN: I'm in favor of a federal school-leaving age of 12. One of the problems is that if we keep people in school until they're 35, we can postpone endlessly what they're supposed to learn in grade school, and that's effectively what's happening in the United States. America already spends more money per pupil than any other civilized country. We pay teachers more than they're paid anywhere, we've reduced class sizes more than they're reduced in any other country. We go on paying more and more teachers to teach fewer and fewer children at greater and greater costs and get dumber and dumber kids.
TAE One of my favorite Lucianne Goldberg quotations is that women should "look, cook, and smell good to men." Has one good thing from Monica-gate been that feminism will die, that sexual harassment laws will fizzle?
GOLDBERG: I believe that quotation comes from a book I wrote in 1971.
TAE: Yes, when you formed the Pussycat League.
GOLDBERG: Right, and we pussycats have finally won. Feminism has had its day. Maybe it's because I was raised in the South, but I always thought women already had the upper hand and that equality was a step down. We controlled the bedroom, the kitchen, the checkbook. Why do I want to be equal to a guy who's got to get up every morning and schlep off to a dehumanizing job? More and more of my friends in their forties are dying to go back home and raise their kids, but they've got a mortgage to pay.
STEYN: Out in rural America women seem to have found a way of balancing it. They spend most of the day with the children, but they have two or three hours in which they run some little business from home.
GOLDBERG: Those few years you have with the kids don't last. Life is very long. And those few years that you get to do the most creative thing there is in life, which is to raise straight-ahead kids, goes in a minute. Then you can go run a bank or invent something or be a movie star.
TAE: Why the comeback today of martinis, cigars, swing music?
STEYN:That's a yearning for a lost style.
TAE: Baseball also made a comeback in 1998.
FERGUSON: Mark McGwire, who is obviously a manly person, is also a product of today's therapeutic culture. He was boasting of the years he spent in therapy, and he has a vocabulary centered on the words beautiful and incredible. I'm sure that Lou Gehrig and DiMaggio and certainly Roger Maris were not the most articulate people in the world, but it is inconceivable that Roger Maris ever would have talked about his therapist.
TAE: What's Clinton going to do in retirement?
GOLDBERG: We all know he's going to Hollywood, right? My scenario is, he somehow thinks the Hillcrest Country Club is the place to be. He gets into one of those poker games with the likes of Shecky Greene and Carl Reiner and they take every penny he's ever going to have in his life. Hillary is on the lounge circuit with Gennifer Flowers, working Vegas. That's the only way they could ever pay back the poker debt. And he ends up as just this sorry piece of celery at the end of the bar.
FERGUSON: He'll be sleeping with Shecky's wife, though.
GOLDBERG: And Shecky will be grateful because he can keep playing.
FERGUSON: It's still possible that he and Monica could get back together.
GOLDBERG: Monica will be fine. There's a certain kind of man who would love to walk into a restaurant with Monica.
FERGUSON: I know several million of them.
GOLDBERG She'll marry some dentist who has more gold chains than he can swim with and she'll be perfectly happy.
STEYN: The idea of Bill with no job, at home with Hillary every day for 40 years.. ..
FERGUSON: Practicing the damn saxophone...
GOLDBERG: It's a circle of Hell.
~from The American Enterprise, January 1999