Maureen Dowd on the impeachment inquiry


September 23, 1998, Wednesday


Liberties; Legacy of Lust

By MAUREEN DOWD ( Op-Ed ) 805 words

WASHINGTON -- He couldn't stop thinking about the thong underwear. He couldn't believe Monica had pulled up her jacket to show it off. It so inflamed his imagination. At meetings, at briefings, at the most unlikely times, his mind suddenly reverted to the image of those straps, quickening his pulse, making him catch his breath.

But it was the cigar that undid him. He was driven by the thought of what had been done with it. Suddenly the capital became a city of cigars. He saw them wherever he went. They ignited his desire. When he was alone or talking to other people, he took secret pleasure in letting smoke rings drift through his mind.

There were times when he worried that he might be a sex addict. He couldn't stop thinking of Monica: what she wore, when she wore it, where she wore it, or didn't wear it. Her little letters were so brazen, promising such wild pleasure. Everything she scribbled, every gift she gave, mesmerized him.

And then there was the power of her voice over him. He knew that he was entering the dangerous territory of obsession. No matter how much he heard Monica talk about sex, it was never enough.

He was a busy man. A powerful man. A serious man. But there were times when all he could remember were the sizzling phone conversations. They filled his head like a drug. People warned him that he was endangering his legacy. Friends and strangers tried to pull him back from the brink of his single-mindedness. But it was too late.

He had become the helpless victim of his cravings for ecstasy.

The big picture was lost. He hungered only for the details, all the stirring and seamy particulars. Nothing was too small or insignificant for him to consider, to turn over and over in his unappeasable mind.

He wanted to think about her eating cherry chocolates. He imagined her wrapped up like Cleopatra in the Rockettes blanket or panting in that Black Dog T-shirt. He kept seeing her in that blue Gap dress. It was too tight, and he was glad. Again and again he was visited by images of a man's roving lips. He knew it was wrong. But he liked to dip into sin. He needed a release from all the pressure, from the extraordinary responsibilities of a very public man.

When he went to church on Sundays, he wrestled with his conscience. He even wondered if he needed professional help.

Sometimes he worried that he was abusing his power and hurting the country. He even fretted that the Constitution itself might be damaged by his obsession.

And sometimes it wasn't easy to behold all the human damage that he already had caused: ruining a young woman's life, dragging all sorts of people through the muck, wounding reputations and bankrupting those who came near him. Would the Presidency survive his lust? It didn't matter.

Every time he heard those words -- inappropriate intimate contact, sex of any kind in any manner, shape or form, arousing or gratifying as defined in definition 1 -- he felt a fire burn.

He had his own definition of sex. Still, he was drawn to the endless discussion of the existential meaning of sex -- its forms, its uses. He was a lawyer, but this was not just tortured legalism. This was tortured eroticism. He liked to parse the lurid definition over and over and over again, gaining pleasure from repetition: ''breasts,'' ''genitalia,'' ''inserted,'' ''stain.''

His acolytes and subordinates became agents of shamelessness. It seemed that everyone around him, everyone in the city, everyone in the country, was talking about what he wanted to hear. All of them had become his collaborators in perversity. He was spending millions and millions of dollars to drag an entire nation down to his twisted level.

He knew how strong he was. He was the most powerful man in the land. He could reach into every recess of the Government to satisfy himself. And the prospect of impeachment didn't frighten him.

In fact, the more he fixated on the strap of that thong, the more certain he was that he could hang Bill Clinton with it. And, of all those naughty words he loved to hear, none filled him with more pleasure than ''impeachment.''

After all, nobody could impeach him. He was Ken Starr.