He's a moral and political leader with a wife, children and a name you'd know. She's a friend of mine who briefly entered his orbit in a professional capacity 10 years ago.
One day he began making advances toward her. It started with him asking how she felt about older men. Then he began finding excuses for her to come to his hotel suite. On one such occasion, he excused an aide who had been hovering nearby and asked her to join him in the bedroom. My friend declined.
He didn't force the issue, but she felt pressure, she says. And fear. After all, he was a great man who had walked with presidents and kings. And she was just a naive and sheltered young woman.
I called my friend the other day, wanting to know how she felt about the presidential sex scandal that has transfixed the nation. She told me she's impatient with the argument that President Clinton's indiscretions are a private matter. "Bill Clinton is a big, fat liar," she said. "And if you tell me he's a big, fat liar at home and he's not a big, fat liar when he's not at home, I can't buy that."
As she sees it, it's an old pattern: Powerful men preying upon unknown women. And the women often paying a price in terms of personal reputation, particularly with other women. "Women hate those women," she said, "and tell them they're stupid for what they did and should have known better."
She has a point. Polls show Americans continuing to support the president, yet my phone rings constantly with readers -- mostly women -- denouncing Monica Lewinsky as a "slut" and worse. For the record, I'm not overly impressed with Lewinsky's moral fiber myself, but the judgment of some women seems particularly harsh.
I felt the same a few years ago after writing a column condemning rapist Mike Tyson. Women blasted me for that, damning Tyson's victim, Desiree Washington, as a lying strumpet. Their view of Tyson, on the other hand, echoed that of an older woman I saw on television Tuesday. Asked by a reporter for her response to the president's admission of infidelity, she replied blandly that he was just a "typical man." In other words, brainless and helpless in the face of his need to rut. Not guilty by reason of masculinity.
What an extraordinary affront to every good man. What an offensive thing to tell a boy. And what a base surrender of the ideal that women and men can treat one another with respect.
Granted, power and lust make some men think with organs other than their brains. They can make a man risk his marriage, his reputation and even, extraordinarily, his presidency for a few minutes of gratification, arrogantly assured that the consequences cannot touch him. But is this really a "typical man"? More to the point, is it an excuse for the excesses of Clinton or any other sexual canine?
Makes me think my friend has been wise in keeping the great man's advances to herself all these years. She's grown up a lot since then, but I remember well the way she was: more girl than woman, a callow kid with a sweet disposition and a blindingly chipper smile. I can easily imagine her going to the great man's hotel thinking he only wanted to discuss business.
If she had succumbed to his pressure and his charms, or simply gone public with his advances, what then? Would some women have called her names while exonerating him as a victim of his own hormones? Where do they get the nerve?
Desiree Washington must certainly wonder. As must Monica Lewinsky. Twenty years from now, Clinton may well have reinvented himself, a la Nixon, as a revered, if flawed, elder statesman of his party, and she will still be the shameless tart who stained a presidency.
My friend would sympathize. She's never forgotten the creepy and unwanted attention of a man whose face of public piety hid a lecher's heart.
He still walks with presidents and kings. And I'd be surprised if he even remembers her name.