President Under Siege: Starr puts President on couch

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The Independent Online
THE 445 pages of the Starr report are not only, in all probability, the most pornographic official document in history. They also offer an undreamt-of goldmine for the army of biographers, political scientists and amateur psychologists trying to make sense of the strange soul of William Jefferson Clinton.

The United States has produced some tortured and fascinating characters among its recent leaders, most notably Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. But neither offers quite the same irresistible complexity of the 42nd President - simultaneously good ol' boy and Yale lawyer, dazzling public policy expert and serial philanderer, interspersing irresistible charm with volcanic rages, and making friends and enemies for life in equal numbers.

Kenneth Starr merely provides more material for Clintonologists of every hue. One episode in the report shows the Clinton who has done wrong and can't acknowledge, even to himself, that he really did so. Another depicts the Clinton-who-just-can't-help-it, instantly followed by Clinton the victim: "I feel like someone surrounded by an oppressive force that is creating a lie about me and I can't get the truth out," he tells one senior White House aide, in an absolute reversal of what happened.

There is Clinton the charmer, persuading an entire Cabinet of his innocence. And then Friday's prayer breakfast, and a president proclaiming himself "broken in spirit but strong in heart", in one breath grovelling, in the next vowing a "vigorous legal defence". What self-respecting writer can resist the challenge of unravelling all that?

Already, even before the Lewinsky theatricals, even before he has finished in the White House, dozens of books have been written about him. Some are factual biographies, some are hatchet jobs, others hagiographies. Not a few have been plain old psychobabble. But whatever else, Bill Clinton makes fantastic copy. The titles themselves tell all. Slick Willie: Why America cannot trust Bill Clinton", by Floyd Brown, and Elizabeth Drew's On the Edge.

But the last word, for now, goes to David Maraniss, author of the acclaimed Clinton biography, First in his Class. Writing in the Washington Post yesterday he posed the $64,000 question. The core issue, he claims, is simple. "Should Bill Clinton be impeached for being Bill Clinton?"