Conflict and confusion as America suffers from Hurricane Monica

The media feels that many decent Democrats who defended their leader have been betrayed
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The Independent Culture
I WOKE up last week in America to the real news. Smiley, learned experts were on TV discussing what "she" was going to do next. "Well Dan, she's unpredictable, she's erratic, and she's massive."

Warnings were issued, reactions gauged, but basically it was up to those most likely to be affected to respond appropriately. Cut to interviews with groups of concerned citizens who were not going to take any notice of the gathering storm clouds, and to others who had already reacted by leaving their homes. For she was Hurricane Bonnie, and she might be appearing at a town near you.

As she travelled up the East Coast, doing her special little dance, pulling the tides one way or another, I became more and more disturbed that this scheming twister should be categorised as feminine. I know it's the convention, but the lip-smacking certainty in which the weathermen told us that, though their job was to tell us which way the wind blows, there was no easy way predict "her behaviour" started to get to me.

At a time when one might have expected a discussion about certain kinds of male behaviour spiralling out of control and wreaking havoc, we had instead a giant swirling force of nature that is innately categorised as feminine. Ships are female, cars are female, the weather is female, and those who are given to steering such things are invariably male. They fly into the eye of the storm with their special little instruments, and predict the direction of the hurricane.

Hurricane Monica, meanwhile - who could predict which way she was going? Pollsters could only survey the damage afterwards. She had already hit the East Coast by the time I went to the West. Erratic, disruptive, and big as a house. Her trim little handbag, an image of propriety, fooled no one. As expected, its contents spilled out onto the floor. God knows what women keep in their purses. Especially women like Monica. For Freud, handbags were symbols of female genitalia, just as cigars were obvious phallic symbols. Yet even Sigmund himself said that sometimes "a cigar is just a cigar". And sometimes it is - no matter whether it's been inhaled and no matter whether its smoking or not.

But you don't want to hear any more about what Monica and Bill got up to, do you? I know the American people, or that section of them routinely polled, don't want to hear any more, because that's what the media keep re-iterating. I know they are above wanting to hear the details of other people's sexual encounters, even the President's, because every one wants him to get on with whatever it is he should be doing - bombing a few tents in some far-off land, acting presidential, patching up relations with the First and last lady.

Yet this story will run and run, not because a few dumbed-down journos want to stick it down the throats of "the people", but because, through this story, something hugely significant is being worked out here. Whoever understands the relationship between the personal and the political, understands the future of power. That why we are watching. We may not want to think about this, partly because we do not know how to think about it. Clearly, it is pretty difficult to argue these days that this is either a purely personal matter, as so many have done, or that is so political that Clinton must be impeached. It is both, and that is why everyone is so confused. The great American public is, as they say, deeply "conflicted".

On phone-ins, they try to work out aloud what they feel. "It reminds of that movie, Primary Colours," said one bewildered caller. "You mean Wag the Dog?" queried the host. "Oh yeah, that's the one. I haven't seen that one". So this reminds people of a movie that they haven't actually seen. And it reminds them of a film in which the President faked a war. "How do we know he's really doing this?" several callers asked.

There are, however, a few things that we know for sure. Even if the American people believe their president is a liar, but still want him to be their president, they are no longer in any doubt about the link between domestic and international policy. This is government by polls, rather than ideology, and so whichever way you look at it, some sort of transparency has been achieved.

This may not be the sort that Noam Chomsky has spent his life arguing for, but a new deal has indeed been struck. Consent is not being manufactured by slick Willy in order to do things. Instead, public reaction is determining the things which need to be seen to be done. This is desperate, or clever, or even how it's actually always been. But no one can look away and pretend this isn't the process any more.

This is why, beyond the titillating details, this is so important. One of the issues that the American media has continually worried about is the distance between the media and "the public". If people are left cold by this story and wanted it dropped, the media can't get enough of it. Part of this is self-aggrandisement, of course. But not all. The media is rarely seen to be brazenly constructing public opinion, although of course it does, but what happens when the media actually thinks differently to the majority of its viewers, readers and listeners. Who, one has to ask, is the media working for? Who is it accountable to?

The idea that the media understands this story better than the electorate is rife. It is a symptom of its own cannibalistic nature, as well as the concentric circles of opinion that flow from Washington. Ordinary people feel that Hillary has been betrayed, and even then they suspect that Bill and Hillary have some kind of deal which, one day, we will fully understand. The media feels, though, that many others have been betrayed: decent Democrats who defended their leader. They feel that the centre cannot hold.

What this episode does expose is a whole number of gaps which no one is managing to successfully plug right now: the gap between the political process and the public's actual interest in it, the gap between private desires and public morals, the gap between political and popular culture.

As I have said before, I find Clinton's behaviour unacceptable, and one of the reasons I do is because such abuses of power can only continue when the personal and political are kept so deliberately disconnected. This radical separation, often carried out in the name of liberalism, benefits only the already powerful.

I believe that Clinton did not have sexual relations with that women. He had virtual porno sex that he could later claim wasn't the real thing. This is neither good nor bad. It is, after all, the basis of that increasingly popular activity, lap dancing.

Leaving America a couple of days ago, it seemed to me that the political process itself has become a kind of lap dancing, in which various possibilities are presented, in which one can see but not touch, which one can gawp at but not directly experience. It isn't suprising, then, that the American public look away.

Nor is it shocking that the media keep rubbing their faces in it, as if to persuade them that watching a woman with no clothes on is the same as having a relationship with her; as if watching someone powerful losing power is the same as gaining it yourself.