Let's be clear: Kenneth Starr is an unpalatable goon. His stem-winding investigation, his extracurricular partisan political interests, his eager way with the titillating, his mind-bending conflicts of interest -- all have lowered the ever-diminishing standards of American political discourse.
Acknowledging this, however, does nothing to alleviate the sad condition of our republic. And using it to shore up the reputation of a mendacious, reckless, unprincipled and narcissistic chief executive is an exercise in political denial. Indeed, in the grand tradition of all conspiratorial political reasoning, it makes the demonized Starr even more powerful than he is imagined to be, by bullying citizens into the game of interminable cabal-spotting.
To prove this obvious point, we now have James Carville's "... And the Horse He Rode in On,'' a hastily assembled compendium of Starr sins, Starr gaffes and Starr-centered webs of guilt-by-association. Indeed, in its attention to lurid detail, its insinuative style of argument and its rock-solid assurance that the Truth resides in the most furtive corners of public life, Carville's book resembles nothing so much as the Starr Report itself, though it is mercifully far briefer and far less assiduously footnoted.
Carville, a former Salon columnist, had declared war on the independent counsel investigation long before Monica Lewinsky was even a gleam in Lucianne Goldberg's eye. In 1994, when Robert Fiske was dismissed from the Whitewater inquiry and Starr named his successor, Carville set about putting the pieces together. He read in the following day's paper that the appointment of Starr was engineered by federal judge David Sentelle, who was seen having lunch with Sens. Lauch Faircloth and Jesse Helms, both North Carolina Republicans. Five months later, Sentelle's wife was hired to work in Faircloth's office.
Carville admits he has no idea what was discussed at this lunch, and he neglects to inform readers that this was duly investigated back in 1994 for the appearance of a conflict, and that charges were summarily dropped by the presiding judge (a Carter-appointed Democrat). But even viewing things in the most sinister possible cast, are we really to believe that a federal judge brokered a deal to overhaul the most high-profile political investigation of our day so that his wife could get an office job? This claim is every bit as wacky as the loopy Arkansas Project efforts to tar Clinton as a drug-running, murderous, sex-crazed Caligula. And yet it is, in Carville's telling, the font from which Starr's runaway investigation springs. The details Carville goes on to cobble together will be familiar to readers of this Web zine: There is Richard Mellon Scaife, the dollar-spigot of the Clinton-hating right. There is David Hale, in all his truth-challenged glory. There is a bait shop.
But, not surprisingly, the unlovely nub of truth in the Starr investigation gets cursory treatment. As is always the case with conspiracy-mongering, citizens are left to ponder stubborn, public truths that defy the logic of the cabal: Monica Lewinsky did lie under oath about her affair with the president. Her swain followed suit. Betty Currie, the president's secretary, did fetch items from Lewinsky's apartment that were evidence of the affair. And of course, for eight months the president egged on members of his administration in dishonest denial and conspiracy-spotting, knowing all the time that he was lying, and hanging loyal supporters out to dry.
What are readers of "... And the Horse He Rode in On" to make of these conspicuously omitted facts? Asked on the "Today Show" if lying about an affair was grounds for pressing for the president's resignation, Hillary Clinton replied, "Well, I think if all that were proven true, I think that would be a very serious offense. That is not going to be proven true."
Now, alas, the American public has before it the messy business of sorting out the value of truth in the age of Clinton. James Carville's conspiracy-addled speculations will help that project not one whit.