We come into this world, Mark Twain says, telling lies.
Twain says he can't remember his first lie, "but I remember my second one very well. I was 9 days old at the time, and had noticed that if a pin was sticking in me and I advertised in the usual fashion, I was lovingly petted and coddled and pitied in a most agreeable way . . ."
So, he says, "I lied about the pinadvertising one when there wasn't any."
A generation later, H. L. Mencken said the Kinsey Report on Human Sexuality confirmed what he'd always suspected: We all lie about the vigor of our libidos.
Reading those two sage opinionsthat we're natural-born liars and that we're especially given to exaggeration about our own randinessI have a hideous thought:
What if Monica Lewinsky was lying to Linda Tripp about her hanky-panky with the president? What if only the threat of a perjury charge coerced her into at last telling the truth in her sworn deposition? They're questions, not assertions.
I know, I know. It's not nearly as much fun to think of it that way, and it clearly runs contrary to what nearly everyone believes. But I've been brooding about this for three months. I've got to get it off my chest. So hear me out.
All the leaked testimony has my head spining, but here's what I think we know:
Linda Tripp secretly taped 20 hours of Monica talking on the telephone last fall about making out big time with the president back in 1996. Then in a sworn deposition in January, Monica denied any sexual relation with the president.
It probably doesn't mean much, but the president also denies it. Hillary has not commented, except to note the presence of a vast right-wing conspiracy.
Kenneth Starr finds it fascinating. Not because of sex, we're told, but because of possible obstruction of justice and subornation of perjury. Assuming, of course, that Monica lied under oath, that there was perjury to suborn.
So Starr had Tripp tape a four-hour, face-to-face discussion with Monicayet another conversation she didn't know was being recorded.
Naughty bits of both tapes have been leaked to the far corners of the universe. With all that smoke, the assumption is that something had to be hot.
That's what we know (or what I think we know). But in keeping with media practice, let's speculate about what the don't know.
What the hell.
Imagine two scenarios in which you're Monica Lewinsky.
In 1996 you're a White House intern with a no-pay job in a town full of high-pay jobholders. You don't have the Barbie look. You grew up in Southern California where the Barbie look is big. You haven't been much noticed.
As a White House intern, you meet the Big Enchilada. He notices.
In a moment of girlish giddiness a year later, you tell a friend you got it on with the Big Enchilada. Now your friend notices. She makes appreciative noises about what a femme fatale you are. No one's ever noticed that before. She urges you to tell more, and even though the telephone makes funny noises, you tell more. For 20 hours, you tell more. It's fun.
The Truth, Mainly
Then you're subpoenaed to give a deposition and it stops being fun. You swear to tell the truth. You're told that if you don't tell the truth, you could be charged with perjury. Perjury isn't fun. Perjury scares hell out of you. So you tell the truth: You lied to Tripp.
You really do get it on with the Big Enchilada in 1996. You can't resist him and he can't resist anybody. He buys you clothes. You buy him books. You're so excited you tell Tripp all about on a funny sounding telephone.
Then you get deposed. You're told you must tell the truth or face perjury charges. You've seen pictures of another woman on televisonone who refused to cooperate with Starr. She wears orange jump suits and walks around in shackles.
But instead of scaring hell out of you, that only makes you more determined to lie in order to protect your ex-lover. After all, his future is more important than yours. So you say it didn't happen. They say they'll want to talk to you again. They talk to your mother. Your mother weeps.
But you persist in lying to save the reputation of the man you call "the creep." Even if it means you may wear orange jump suits and walk around in shackles.
Now, which scenario seems more plausible to you? Just asking.
Is this a gender stereotype thing? Do we assume that only males exaggerate their sexual prowess?
Starr is a buttoned-up man with buttoned-up values. He may find it churlish to believe that a young woman even one who's been quoted saying "I have lied all my life" would lie about making out with the president.
Especially with this president. Starr may be so intent on nailing this president that his head is spinning too. Twain and Mencken probably aren't Starr's favorite writers, but they might be good for his equilibrium.
Just a thought.
Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes
to salvage clarity from his confusion.
His column appears on alternate Mondays.