Kenneth Starr's sex appeal

Independent counsel Kenneth Starr may be pursuing truth and justice. But on a trip to Texas he showed he also may have an eye for some of the more down-to-earth things in life.

Published May 19, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

Last week as an airport bus taxied out to a turboprop headed from Dallas-Fort Worth to Lubbock, Texas, I was startled to look up and see independent counsel Kenneth Starr standing over me.

My first reaction was to look around and share the moment with my fellow ordinaries. Star-struck -- or, rather, thunder-struck -- it never occurred to me to say hello or to ask how he was, although the thick-necked bodyguard accompanying Starr to the plane looked like he'd cut off any other sort of exchange pretty quickly.

I did hope to be seated next to him on the flight. I wanted to tell him to let it go already, that putting Susan McDougal away for more time or haranguing Monica Lewinsky was gratuitous and mean and served no purpose. I wanted to tell him that as a taxpayer, I resent having to pay for my airfare and his.

No such luck. Starr sat three rows behind me and immediately pulled some papers out of a green carry-on bag. But then something interesting happened. Two attractive women in their early 30s boarded. As they passed Starr, one of them, clearly more courageous than I, stopped.

"Where do I know you from?" she asked. "Are you on television?"

Starr (smiling, proffering his hand): "Ken Starr."

She blushed and laughed. He took her small hand in both of his, a handshake so transparently suave that it was almost Clintonesque. They agreed it was nice meeting each other. Then she slinked off, giggling with her equally Starr-struck friend.

Meanwhile, Starr gazed after her with a bemused smile until she sat down, then he returned to his papers.

Now, I'm not a mind reader, and for all I know Starr wasn't really watching her derrihre, only smiling blankly ahead of himself. I have no way of knowing if there was lust in the independent counsel's heart, and I am no way suggesting any sort of putative sex scandal. But in that unprotected gaze, I thought there might lie a clue to Starr's Inspector Javert-like pursuit of his presidential quarry.

By going after Clinton, Starr gets to be like him. It is the revenge of the consummate nerd, here, played out absurdly in the grandiose arena of national politics. The geek (Starr) imagines he will get the cheerleader by taking out the captain of the football team. He's living a dream. And he can't let it go because then the captain gets to keep the girl and the geek returns to his humdrum state.

It turned out Starr was in Lubbock to address law school graduates at Texas Tech. The speech, as reported by the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, exhorted the students to honor truth. Reading the account of it the next day, I recalled Starr lapping up the attention of the adoring brunet on the turboprop, and wondered whether sometimes there are -- ah -- baser motives that drive noble causes.

On the plane, the woman next to me was returning to visit her family in Lubbock. Lubbock is a conservative West Texas town of big box department stores and restaurants with drive-through windows. Native sons include Buddy Holly and Mac Davis, and it's so flat that if Columbus had been born there, the possibility that the Earth was round might never even have occurred to him. The woman would qualify as a "social conservative." She didn't like big cities, for example, because they were the epitome of bad values.

I asked if she'd seen who was on the plane with us. She had indeed, but unlike me, had the good manners not to gawk. More surprising, given her generally conservative views, were her feelings about our celebrity passenger. She said she didn't like what Starr was doing, that President Clinton was doing an OK job and that his sex life wasn't relevant.

Then the turboprop hit some turbulence, and we rocked around in midair for a few minutes. I said I was sure the plane was safe.

If her reply was at all representative of Middle America as the Clinton scandals play themselves out, Starr should take note. "Well, I must confess," she said, "if this plane were to go down right now, it wouldn't be a total loss."

By Todd Pitock

Todd Pitock has written for the New York Times, the Toronto Globe and Mail and CNNfn. He covered the 1994 South African elections for the Forward and other publications.

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