Mammary dreams

Behind men's moral outrage at Clinton's behavior seethes the fear that his compulsion is just one step beyond our own.

Published February 3, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

I have been informed by the national media that breasts are back. I assume my sources on this are reliable. Esquire says it's so, and even more
impressively, Newsweek says that Esquire says it. In investigating this
phenomenon I thought it sufficient to simply scope out the covers of Esquire,
GQ, Details, Maxim, Bikini and Gear at the local newsstand, with Pamela Anderson,
Heidi Klum, Elizabeth Hurley and Bridget Fonda among others making the case. But
the Newsweek writer reporting this development was apparently conscientious
enough to actually buy these magazines and read them. There you go. From
Newsweek you get such thoughtful analysis and from Salon you get me.

There aren't many crucial nuances to be noted in men's attraction to naked or semi-naked women except for what I assume is obvious. I would only suggest
that if, after all, male devotion to breasts was really completely
uncomplicated, all men would be slavishly devoted to Pamela Anderson as
all roosters are slavishly devoted to the sun. But the fact is that, for
whatever reason, Pamela has never quite done it for me, and you'll just have to
take my word for it that it's not because I'm above such things. I thought
Pam's "Baywatch" predecessor, Erika Eleniak, was a goddess, and if that isn't
tacky enough for you, Anna Nicole Smith was quite the tomato too, before
things got out of hand. In any event, it's testament to the fact that, even at
its most basic, men's attraction to breasts is still subject to the elusive
intangibles of personality and chemistry that the other, more highly evolved
gender factors into such considerations all the time.

Yes, you ask, but what does this have to do with President Clinton? Well, I didn't say it had anything to do with President Clinton; you did. But now that you've brought it up, whether due to random chance or some depraved aspect of Chaos Theory, the mass media's final deconstruction of liberated man has coincided with a president who more than any other embodies the "modern," "enlightened" male's great schizophrenia. That is to say, a president who is at once the most progressive ever in terms of feminism's social agenda -- and the most compulsive womanizer in at least a third of a century.

I assume women are smart enough to understand that men have been bullshitting each other about the Monica Lewinsky scandal ever since it began. It's no accident that all the expressions of great moral outrage and dismay have come from men -- an army of shocked Claude Rainses in the carnal Casablanca of life, operating under the watchful eye of wives, mistresses and female constituents. Virtually all the serious women I know are more genuinely unsettled by the legal and constitutional implications of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal; when it comes to the sexual part they just narrow their eyes knowingly as little "What else is new?" thought-balloons pop above their heads. Clinton is the result of both feminism's triumph and most abject failure. The triumph is that after 30 years virtually all reasonable men have long since succumbed to feminist arguments about women's social and economic and political equality, not to mention private-behavior arguments that should have always gone without saying in the first place, having to do with rape, assault, harassment and sexual terrorism. At the same time, none of this has succeeded in rewriting biology so as to edit out of the male DNA the gene stamped SLEAZEBALL that makes Elizabeth Hurley's chest so stupefying.

Men can civilize this biology, modify it if not entirely tame it, understand
it doesn't legitimize boorishness or justify the license to treat women in a
humiliating fashion. But all that notwithstanding, the sleazeball gene just
goes right on ticking, and will until the end of the species.
When it comes to the president getting serviced by a woman half his age, the
eternal struggle between civilization and man's true nature has found a
metaphor a little more vivid than most of us would like, and by
"us" I mean the guys, because once you get past all our collective sensitive-guy indignation about Clinton, the Guy's Guide to Impeachment is just a
tattered map of unseen booby-traps. For most men I know, the conflict over
Clinton's conduct is not between It's OK and It's Not OK. I personally don't
know any man who really thinks what Clinton did was OK. It's between I
Understand and I Don't Understand. I think it's probably surprised most of us
(the guys, and maybe a few women too) how often the balance has tipped toward
the latter.

Because, assuming that most guys wrestle with questions of fidelity at one time or another and can't always say for absolute
certainty what they would do in the wrong place at the wrong time if the wrong
Monica should flash her thong underwear at them in the wrong way, on the road
to cheating two major obstacles still have to be overcome: paranoia and
conscience. With most men, if conscience doesn't get them, paranoia usually does, or vice versa. What disquiets a lot of guys about Clinton is that it seems like neither paranoia nor conscience ever comes into play at all. Clinton isn't just a Pamela Anderson man; he's not even a Pamela Anderson-and-Erika Eleniak man, or a Pamela Anderson-and-Erika Eleniak-and-Anna Nicole Smith-and-Elizabeth Hurley-and-Heidi Klum-and-Bridget Fonda man. Apparently Clinton is an anything-that-walks-on-two-legs man, a sexual Sherman rampaging to the sea across the
terrain of American womanhood -- though I threw in that "American" qualifier
only because it sounded good.

This may be unfair. Two things seem obvious about all the women who claim to have had sex with the president: The first is that many of them are telling
the truth, and the second is that many of them are not. I've been in the
West Wing of the White House; it's not palatial. It's a rat's maze of
people tripping over each other; George Stephanopoulos' office was barely
bigger than my wife's walk-in closet. It's hard to conceive how the president
could have had even a single liaison there without the entire world knowing it
before he even finished zipping his pants -- so even harder to fathom is a
string of such affairs. Immediately following the Gennifer Flowers near-disaster of early 1992, my own guess is that Clinton stared at the heavens and
said, like every alcoholic after he falls off the wagon, Please God just get
me through this and I promise I'll be good, and he may indeed have been good
for the rest of '92 and, in his new more claustrophobic life, throughout '93
and '94 and almost all of 1995. For Clinton, four whole years of such self-restraint constituted an epic tableau of practically saintly behavior, as well
as teeth-itching repression -- during which, it must also be noted, his
presidency proceeded to go straight down the tubes, until that fateful
November of '95 when Monica says their relationship began.

This was the exact moment Clinton demonstrated his steeliest presidential
resolve, staring down the Gingrich Congress over the budget and the closing of
the federal government. We'll let history reach its own conclusions as
to what it means that he became a distinctly better president once he started
getting blow jobs in the Oval Office; but in the meantime, what's striking to
many men is how a guy can have had so many dealings with women over the years
and learned so little about them in the process. Leaving aside for the moment
that even a sexually worldly 22-year-old is still bound to be romantically
innocent, and therefore vulnerable to being shattered, a guy Clinton's age
should know that the odds of any young woman remaining circumspect about this
sort of encounter are so low as to reside somewhere around the center of the
earth. To be sure, it's not precisely a matter of Clinton being stupid; when
it comes to sex all men are stupid at one time or another. What's more
unnerving is how the tripwires of danger in Clinton's psyche never went off in
time: At what point in the First Affair did it occur to him he now had a Big
Problem? The third time they did it? The 10th? Or was it the first -- at
which point the affair's continuance was born out of a conspiracy between the
president's impulses and his panicked certainty that, having so recklessly
pulled the pin, he now held a live grenade he had absolutely no idea what to
do with?

Some time ago I came to the conclusion that a perfectly intelligent way of
resolving the abortion issue was to have a national referendum among American
women in which men aren't allowed to vote at all. It seemed to me there's
nothing men can bring to the question of childbearing -- no insight, no
experience, no wisdom -- that women don't completely trump. It may well be
that a perfectly intelligent way of resolving the fate of President Clinton is to
have the same women's referendum, unless of course you actually believe the
current Senate impeachment trial really doesn't have anything to do with sex
but rather, let's see, what is it? oh, right: "perjury" and "obstruction of
justice." But that isn't going to happen, of course. Instead, in the next
two weeks Clinton will be judged mostly by people who are -- down in their dinky little hearts only marginally larger than the more irresistible organ 15
inches below -- Pamela Anderson men themselves, even if they're all much too morally
superior to admit it. This follows the judgment of a House of Representatives
full of Virgin Mary men by day and Mary Magdalene men by night, except for
those who are secret Monica men, like House manager Bill McCollum, who keeps
saying he needs to call Monica as a witness so he can get the "full flavor" of
the scandal.

I realize in a way we're all Monica men -- except maybe Russ Feingold. Amid all the congressional high dudgeon, with lots of people trying to cast
themselves as profiles in courage, the Democrat from Wisconsin is the singular
senator who has quietly evinced integrity. The only one to depart from the
line of his particular party, last week he voted against dismissing the case
and in favor of continuing the trial, as well as calling witnesses, not
because he's necessarily convinced the case against the president is a strong
one, and not because it was the politically profitable thing to do, which it
certainly wasn't, but because he understands that whether or not impeachment
was justified in the first place, what the Senate does now must withstand the
view of history in 20, 30, 50 years. And though he might have spent any
number of television hours justifying himself and grandstanding on
Sunday morning's various talk shows, populated by no less than 18 other
senators -- almost one-fifth of the entire Senate -- he was conspicuously
absent, leaving us to simply take him at his word. Alone in the United States
Congress he might deserve it. I see Feingold as, I don't know, a Laetitia
Casta man perhaps. One more thing to his credit.

By Steve Erickson

Steve Erickson's new novel, "The Sea Came in at Midnight," will be published next spring by Bard/Avon.

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Bill Clinton