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Why are they still swooning over Clinton?


She was the young intern Bill Clinton used sexually in the White House ''because I could.'' Now she gets to watch the ex-president, tanned, fit, and making millions off their exploits. People are waiting in line to buy the Clinton book. He, not President Bush or challenger John Kerry, is the talk of the nation. How does that happen?

Clinton on ''Oprah'' was a revelation, not for what he said, but for how the audience responded. The television cameras showed women, young and old, nodding, smiling, laughing and falling in love with the drawling, lip-biting charmer who cheated on his wife, his daughter and his country. Count TV host Oprah Winfrey among the swooning.

On one level, Clinton's appeal is easy to understand. The mixture of power and vulnerability that attracted Lewinsky was showcased on ''Oprah.'' Who can resist a man who is running down Osama bin Laden at the same time he is banished to the couch after finally telling Hillary Clinton the truth about Monica Lewinsky? He offers bipartisan thrills to women who like men who talk, even if they talk mostly about themselves.

As Clinton continues his book tour, mothers should grab their daughters, sit them down in front of the television when he is hawking ''My Life'' and warn them: Danger! Here is a powerful, needy man who appears willing to share a tiny bit of his power and a great deal of his needs. Stay away from men like that. They will use their power to fill their needs, and when those needs are temporarily satisfied, they will go back to what really turns them on: their power.

Listen to Clinton describe Lewinsky to Winfrey: ''She is a really intelligent person and a fundamentally good person.'' He hopes she ''won't be trapped in what Andy Warhol called everybody's 15 minutes of fame.'' He could be talking about any young woman he once met, not one who fantasized about running away with a married president. If their paths cross in the future, it would be fine, Clinton said, as if the two had merely shaken hands rather than touched intimate body parts.

That level of emotional detachment fits the model of the ''parallel lives'' that provide the psychological foundation or excuse for Clinton's behavior. Minus the psycho-babble, it's just rationalization for a smart, selfish man moving on. He sounds like every teenage boy itching to get away from his mother and back with his pals, time's up, gotta go.

You don't have to be Monica Lewinsky to fall for a Bill Clinton. The ex-president told Winfrey he never believed Hillary Rodham Clinton would leave him, and so far, he is correct. The brilliant Wellesley College graduate, Yale Law School student, controversial First Lady and now US senator accepted the humilation that came with being Mrs. Bill Clinton from Arkansas to Washington. According to Bill Clinton, she got madder at the Republicans who used the Lewinsky scandal to undermine him than she did at the husband who handed them the weapon they used against him.

It's easy to imagine Bill sweet-talking Hillary way back when, one minute talking health care policy, the next minute crying about his mama. For brainy women, it doesn't get any sexier than that. A brainy man who appreciates your mind and shares his feelings is heaven, until it turns into purgatory. No one should ever second-guess another person's marriage, but it looks like Hillary Clinton made her deal with the devil, is paying the price, and still thinks it is worthwhile. Silly, silly Hillary.

Clinton has no fear the Andy Warhol trap applies to him, because he is certain he is too important to ever be forgotten. Yet so far this book tour highlights nothing significant about the Clinton presidency, it just replays a mundane script: young, impressionable woman meets powerful, married man. This is no ''Casablanca'' or even ''slam, bam, thank you, ma'am.'' Forget about an affair of the heart, he makes it appear to be something even less than a moment of passion. At the end of doing what he did because he could do it, there is Clinton, telling Lewinsky to have a nice life.

He wishes her well, even though she may end up nothing more than the punchline to a joke. His generosity is rooted in the certainty that he is something bigger than their liaison. It will never define him the way it defines her.

Or, so he believes. Silly, silly Bill.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is

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