What's a clever lawyer doing with such a dumb man?

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THE reporters covering Whitewater have given up even trying to explain what it's about. Bill Neely on News at Ten described it as 'a complex land deal that no one understood', and I knew what he meant. I have struggled with Whitewater. I know there is a suggestion that Bill Clinton might have intervened with the state regulators to help Madison Guaranty, the savings and loan firm owned by his Whitewater partner, James McDougal, or to secure improper loans to McDougal's wife, Susan. I am fairly sure Hillary shouldn't have represented Madison Guaranty before a state regulator appointed by Bill. But when I try to comprehend the whole, my brain goes fluffy, like Arkansas cotton.

Whitewater coverage has fortunately moved on to more accessible issues, such as whether the First Lady should have quite so much to do with healthcare policy, and whether, generally speaking, we preferred Nancy or Barbara. Some people will no doubt regret this development, but I suspect one of the main attractions of Whitewater has always been that it gives Americans an excuse to ask what exactly Hillary's doing there.

Hillary is there, of course, because she's responsible for this presidency. She subsidised Bill while he was governing Arkansas; she stopped him chewing cigars and eating junk food; she sat stoically on the sofa, looking dewy- eyed, and publicly forgiving him his infidelities. But no one ever voted for her, so her overwhelming political claims collide with non- existent constitutional claims, giving many people just the excuse they're looking for to resent her. And not just Republicans, either; I've heard young British feminists argue that if she wanted a job in the administration, she should have adopted some other method than sleeping with Bill. (My guess is that if she'd thought she could do it alone, she'd have left Bill back with the blondes in Arkansas years ago.) Whatever the Clintons may or may not have done, Whitewater might helpfully focus attention on the curiously undefined role of the first lady in an age of independent, educated American women. It might also prompt questions as to why the person who is obviously the real presidential material in that family had to change her name halfway through her professional life, and adopt all those daft expressions of adoration of a man dumb enough to get himself mixed up with Gennifer Flowers.

VIVIENNE Westwood poses a threat to the nation's morality. I know this because I have been reading the Daily Mail, which last week carried two furious rants against fashion's tendency to deprave and corrupt. Colin McDowell wrote of 'an industry running wild, virtually free of all constraint,' and which, he added darkly, is 'largely homosexual'.

What hope then for the nation's teenagers? Will my 10-year- old daughter soon want to parade down our street with a red light on her head, or go to school with her breasts exposed? I have to say I am unconvinced - although I do have concerns about those fashion pictures. Among the many things I worry about on my daughter's behalf - drugs, sex, accidents - the prospect that she will soon be unable to pass a mirror without checking to see whether her stomach sticks out looms largest. I know almost no woman who hasn't been through a mirror and stomach phase, and very debilitating it is, which is why I am so pathetically grateful to Dawn French for being photographed for Esquire looking fat, naked, and gorgeous.

Dawn wrote in the accompanying feature that her dad sat her down before her first disco, when she was 14, told her she was uncommonly beautiful and precious, and so sent her out with a conviction of her own loveliness, which has happily never left her. This is a lesson all fathers could learn, if only because Dawn's pictures were much more shocking than the photos of Kate Moss with her breasts exposed. You can hardly open a newspaper these days without seeing Kate Moss's breasts. Far more women look like Dawn French, but you just don't see many pictures of them.

I HAVE been in bed all week with a high temperature, unable to tell whether I was still delirious, or whether another body really had been discovered in Cromwell Street. But there is one great pleasure to be had from being ill: if you can but endure the Perry Como and Cliff Richard records (you probably do have to be ill) there are great moments to be had from Jimmy Young. On Monday, he was asking the Prime Minister whether he tucked his shirt into his underpants. On Wednesday, he did one of the best interviews with the minister of truth. There was a lot of 'Hello William] Hello Jimmy]' bonhomie to start, and then Jimmy was up between Waldegrave's ribs with his first question. 'Could it be you were honest almost to the point of navete?' he asked cheerily, driving straight to the heart of the matter, which is that William doesn't have any political nous. William then struggled to draw 'a sharp distinction' between lying and just not quite telling the truth, which, as Jimmy genially pointed out, was utterly opaque.

ANYONE who writes touchy-feely books must by definition be seriously mixed up. Take Warren Farrell, the 'masculinist' whose book, The Myth of Male Power (which came out last week) argues that men have become disposable success-objects. Farrell not only writes relationship books, he also runs relationship workshops. He does not, however, have a relationship. This, he explains, is because his most recent girlfriend 'was a wonderful person to whom I was only marginally attracted. I thought I could overcome this'. Sane people might ask what he was doing (they nearly married) if he felt so little, but Farrell seems to feel no need to explain himself, preferring to blame her for the breakdown of their relationship: 'She dressed very sloppily and gained weight right away and just didn't take care of herself.' The icy Mr Farrell also said that right now he's 'working on' his problem of not being quick enough to reject all the women who come on to him. Do not buy this book. Its author is odd.

(Photograph omitted)

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