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Many realize politicians need private lives, too


A FRIEND OF mine, taking note of the great American sexual landscape -- countless skin magazines, amateur porno videos for sale, naked pictures on the Internet -- figures there must be nude photos of every single person in America, if we look thoroughly enough. I've seen my own. I'm lying there on a rug, in the summer of 1945, and I'm as cute as a button. But I don't think that's what my friend is talking about.

She means everybody's got something to hide, including not only Bill Clinton but such congressional swingers as the "youthfully indiscreet" Rep. Henry Hyde (five-year affair with a married woman that destroyed her marriage), Rep. Helen Chenoweth (affair with a married man), Rep. Dan Burton (father of a child from an extramarital affair), Rep. Bob Livingston (extramarital affair), and the serial no-commenter, Rep. Bob Barr.

In my time writing about politicians around here, I've known those who strayed from their marriage vows, those who strayed from other people's marriage vows, gays, lesbians, some who stayed in the closet and some who didn't, and the late Baltimore City Councilman Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro, who took me on a tour of The Block one afternoon, where he lead me into a peep show booth and slipped a quarter into a slot to gaze at the wonders of a porno movie.

"Now I'd like to have that done to me, and who don't is not a damned human being," said Mimi, watching a scene of all-consuming togetherness. "But I understand that young men are going in here and degenerating."

Mimi might have fractured the language, but out of his grammatical miracles there often arose simple truth.

Everybody has a private life, including politicians. Everybody is even entitled to a private life, a fact that seems to have eluded Kenneth Starr, Linda Tripp and certain above-named congressional swingers who had their private lives held up for examination while grandly attempting to exhibit Bill Clinton's.

In the sickening mess into which Washington has sunk, the latest to have his private life made public is the noxious Rep. Bob Barr, who previously distinguished himself as a keynote speaker last year at the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group.

Barr has been outed by Larry Flynt, the porno hustler. Imagine what's happened to a country where the loathsome Flynt has become the avenging angel of libidinal fair play. Sexual McCarthyism takes another leap. Except that Flynt says he's only trying to level the playing field: The right-wingers try to kill the sleazoid Democratic president, so Flynt takes out another right-wing Republican sleazoid every few days.

Flynt has an affidavit from one of Barr's former wives. She says she believes Barr was having an affair in the mid-1980s with the woman who's now his wife. She bases the allegations partly on a 1986 divorce deposition in which both Barr and the current wife refused to answer questions about their relationship.

Barr's response to the charges? "I never perjured myself in court," he says.

This, of course, is the great distinction made by Clinton's adversaries: It's not the sex, it's the lying. Lying politicians -- this is a new one, right?

"We didn't send that U-2 spy plane over Russia."

"We're not bombing Cambodia."

"We had nothing to do with the Watergate break-in."

"We haven't given arms to the contras."

"Read my lips: No new taxes."

And the Republicans seem stunned that the impeachment is playing so poorly across America. They can't make the distinction that most Americans can: Yes, Clinton's a sleaze, but, certain things are not our business, one of them being other people's sex lives -- unless it affects the business of the country, unless it touches the lives of ordinary citizens.

And this is the big failing in the Starr investigation and the impeachment proceedings: Nobody has shown how Clinton's libido directly affected anybody outside his family. Nobody has had to go to war over it (even Clinton's detractors don't seriously bring up the latest Iraq bombing), nobody has broken into private offices because of it, nobody's taxes have been raised because of it. Our lives are untouched by his private business, and that's why we want all of this put behind us.

You want references, here's one: A few weeks back, a Montgomery County woman was found guilty of running a house of prostitution -- complete with housewife hookers -- out of her three-bedroom home in a suburban Gaithersburg cul de sac.

The business operated for three years. More than 50 women worked there. More than 200 men availed themselves of their services. Neighbors saw them arriving and leaving at all hours of the night.

But nobody complained -- until the customers started parking in residents' reserved spaces. At which point, neighbors called police. Somebody else's private business had infringed on their lives.

Friends, that's what's saving Bill Clinton right now.

He's a sleaze who can't control his libido -- but he always found his own private place to park.

Pub Date: 1/14/99

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