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Pundits & Prose

Calvin Trillin, whose articles and columns have earned him renown as a classic American journalist and humorist, writes a weekly column for TIME.

Give Me a Break!

By Calvin Trillin

TIME magazine

My friend hobart, the conspiracy connoisseur, still sees this White House scandal as a plot by the Democratic National Committee. I personally find it hard to believe the D.N.C. would conspire to bring down its own President, but I know better than to say that to Hobart. It's the sort of observation he usually answers with "Puh-leeze!" or "Give me a break!"

I'd been mistaken in thinking the "vast right-wing conspiracy" mentioned by Hillary Clinton would have long-term appeal for Hobart. "If she had changed that to 'creepy little cabal,' I might have gone for it," he told me. "It's true that this wouldn't have got to the point of subpoenas without Richard Mellon Scaife and his fevered friends. But they didn't put Monica Lewinsky in the White House. Of course, the guy who recommended her, Walter Kaye, is a particular friend of Hillary Clinton's, but I never figured Hillary for the engineer of this. Wronged wife who finally takes revenge? Too obvious. Too much like a Barbara Stanwyck movie."

"Hillary Clinton!" I said. "She's been the President's biggest defender."

"Right," Hobart said. "Just what she would have done if she'd been behind it. Too obvious. Then I thought about who would have the most to gain in the long run if Clinton disappears: the Democrats."

"So the Democrats plotted against Clinton?"

"What did he ever do for them?" Hobart said. "Does the word triangulation ring a bell?"

"But why would--"

"Because instead of waiting three years for the other bimbo to drop, they get Al Gore in the White House. He gets a honeymoon. The wooden quality that inspired you to describe him as a 'manlike object' while he was second banana strikes a lot of people as a relief after five years of the Big Smoothy. In the year 2000, Republicans are cutting one another up in the primaries; the party is hopelessly entangled in the public mind with these right-wing squirrels who set up people to snoop on the President's backseat activities. Gore sails into the election as a commanding figure--the 43rd President of the U.S."

"But how about Kenneth Starr?"

"Exactly! He'd take the bait. This is a guy with so little judgment that he was going to accept a deanship financed by Scaife at Pepperdine, a place that wouldn't show up on any law-school ranking that did not also include some vo-techs."

"So why did Clinton bounce back the next week?"

"Because the press scared the hell out of people. These Washington press bozos love tumult so much they forget how much ordinary people dread it. Unless, of course, all that breathless pomposity on the Sunday-morning talk shows was no accident ..."

"I can't believe the press would be part of a Republican conspiracy to sabotage the Democrats' conspiracy to bring down their own President."

But Hobart had lost interest in the press. "You'll notice that when it all started to calm down, we heard from Betty Currie, who was for years a loyal worker in--what else?--the Democratic Party."

"Mrs. Currie is a woman of impeccable reputation," I said. "She's revered. Surely she wouldn't be involved in--"

"Puh-leeze!" Hobart said. "Give me a break!"

In TIME This Week

Cover Date: February 16, 1998

The Press And The Dress
Drip Drip Drip
Behind The Scenes With Monica
Just An Affectionate Guy
Ain't We Got Fun
Time To Off Saddam?
With A Little Help From His Friends
Eyes On The Oval
The Art of the Leak
Inside the Magic Bubble
Give Me a Break!

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