||Margaret Carlson was named in 1994 the first woman columnist in TIME's history. She writes primarily about policy and politics and is a regular panelist on CNN's Capital Gang.
Inside the Magic Bubble
By Margaret Carlson/TIME
Around Washington, those in awe of the President's resilience
say that if Bill Clinton were the Titanic, the iceberg would
have gone down. On Thursday night, he lived out that metaphor
when he was host to Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair at a
formal dinner in the East Room. Like a brightly lit ocean liner
on a dark sea, the White House floated above the scandal for
five hours, as 240 guests clinked glasses and basked in the glow
of being rich, of being powerful, of being there.
It was eerie. Just getting the most coveted ticket in
Washington--to dine with those two powerful heads of state--lent
the evening an illusion of invulnerability: that all is right in
the world because all is right at this moment. There was the
President, charming and being charmed by the bicoastal Masters
of the Universe: Steven Spielberg, Barry Diller, Jack Welch,
Warren Buffett, Tom Hanks, Ralph Lauren, John F. Kennedy Jr.,
Tina Brown, Anna Wintour, Barbara Walters, Peter Jennings. Bad
luck seemed as far away as it must have seemed in the ballroom
of the Titanic. How can anything be wrong when Stevie Wonder and
Sir Elton John have come to sing to you?
But shortly after dinner, in a white tent over the West Terrace,
as Wonder began You Are the Sunshine of My Life, an aide handed
Clinton confidant Harry Thomason a printout off the Internet of
a New York Times story about Betty Currie's testimony. The sight
of Thomason hunched over in the dim blue light with Clinton
adviser Rahm Emanuel, straining to read, set off a buzz among
the reporters on the press riser behind them. Abruptly, Peter
Jennings left. Stop the music: Clinton may be done in--and by
his own secretary.
So often scandals come to this. The fate of those on the upper
deck hangs on the mettle of those below. History belongs to
Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright--until it devolves to
Dwight Chapin and Rose Mary Woods and Betty Currie. But this
time we have more than the keeper of the secrets moving center
stage; we have the moral center of a drama that had lacked one.
If Linda Tripp has come to be the Iago of the piece, full of
malice, Currie occupies a place of goodness nearly unparalleled.
One of her closest friends, Judy Green, a vice president of
People for the American Way, says, "Betty wouldn't be an enabler
or look the other way if she sensed or saw anything wrong. She
would have left rather than let something inappropriate go on."
When Currie says "so help me God" before a grand jury, she means
it. She won't "forget" what she'd rather not remember. If she
knows something awful happened in the Oval Office, everyone is
right to be worried.
As she plows through the press mob or watches as the lawn of her
suburban bungalow is chewed up by a stakeout, the anguish
visible on her face comes from her knowledge of Bill Clinton,
the man up close, not the President we write about from afar. No
doubt she's been a victim of his carelessness, as so many have,
but she has also been the recipient of a hundred kindnesses.
When her brother and sister died suddenly and young in the space
of six months, Clinton dropped everything to go to both funerals.
The band played on last Thursday as the President and First Lady
danced till 1 a.m. to My Girl and In the Mood. Later reports
would suggest that Currie's testimony would not sink Clinton,
after all. For now, the ship of state sails on.