The following was originally published (The Boise Weekly) March 5, 1998.
How To Discuss Presidential Sex Scandals With Your Children … Or …
What exactly was the Cat In The Hat doing with the Pokey Little Puppy?
Presidential sex scandals are hard on kids. Even the alleged ones. And this Lewinsky thing, whew! It’s a doozy, eh?
As you and everyone else who’s had electricity run up the hill to the house are aware, there’s some purdy steamy stuff coming out of the Adventures of Monica in Wonderland, and it’s been virtually impossible to keep from the ears of our children. When Katy Couric was about to get into the subject on The Today Show, she first suggested we turn down the volume on our teevee sets. I did it. I have a young daughter, and when Katy Couric thinks things are about to be said which children shouldn’t hear, by damn, I listen. Yes, I’m a free-thinking sonofagun, but I try to keep that separate from being a father.
So I un-cranked the volume down to where all I could hear were muffled whispers. Hence, I had no idea what Katy and her guest were talking about. My ears aren’t that good. In fact, my kid is the only one in our house whose ears are that good, so I had to ask her what was going on.
“What’d he say?”
“‘Oral sex,’ Dad. He said ‘oral sex’.”
If I ever run into Katy Couric, I’m going to ask her what I did wrong.
* * *
But you have to thank Katy for her concern, don’t you? I’ve noticed all of the newspeople, as they run out of anything new to say, have taken to advising us parents on how to explain it to our offspring. Thanks a bunch, guys. And my, oh my, what an ingenious way to show concern and sling mud at the same time.
In that spirit of conscientious journalism, I would like to offer my own script for helping the kids deal with these disturbing accusations. It’s the approach I used with my own child when she started asking me questions about the scandal. I don’t know if it worked or not, but at least she stopped asking me questions. Thank God.
“Dad, what are knee-pads for? And why did that Monica girl want some?”
“Honey, before we get into the knee-pads thing, let me explain a little about our system of government. There’s the Supreme Court, see, and the Congress … that’s where Helen Chenoweth pretends to go when she leaves town … and there’s the Presidency. Three branches of government, and they’re supposed to watch over one another and keep one another straight. It’s worked dandy for 200-some years, but along comes this ‘independent counsel’ … this Kenneth Starr fella … and he starts acting like maybe none of that checks-and-balance stuff applies to him. Remember the Grinch Who Stole Christmas? Well this Kenneth Starr fella is the Grinch who wants to steal the Presidency. Understand?
“Uh, Daddy, if the Kenneth guy is a robber, why don’t some police officers or somebody stop him? Like arrest him or whatever?”
“Well, he’s what they call a ‘special prosecutor,’ Hon. And before you were born, Congress made up special prosecutors for whenever a President is maybe doing something against the law. But Kenneth Starr has turned the special prosecutor’s job into an excuse to bother people just for the sake of being a pest. He bothered Monica Lewinsky’s poor mom, and Bill Clinton’s poor secretary, and now he’s bothering about anybody who sticks up for Bill Clinton. He’s like a school bully and even the teachers can’t punish him. If they send him to the principal’s office, he’ll just subpoena the principal. See what I mean?”
“You mean he’s sorta like a Power Ranger, except he’s a bad guy.”
“Exactly, Honey. The Black Power Ranger. And aren’t you just the smartest kid.”
“But, Dad, if Congress made up special prosecutors, can’t Congress make special prosecutors go away?”
“Oooooh, we don’t want to do that, Sweetheart. Oh, no. Sooner or later, there’ll be another Republican in the White House, and if that happens, we don’t want to get caught without special prosecutors, now do we? Nononono. We just need to get rid of this one special prosecutor … this Kenneth Starr fella … because he’s giving a bad name to all special prosecutors. Remember the story about the Ugly Duckling? What we have here is an ugly duckling who just keeps getting uglier and uglier and uglier and … “
“Okay, so … what about the knee pads?”
“I’m getting to that. Now, this ugly grinch duck … this Kenneth Starr fella … well, he hates Bill Clinton sooooooo much that it’s just like Snow White. Remember Snow White? This Kenneth Starr fella is like the wicked queen because he and a bunch of his friends are so dang jealous of Bill Clinton being the prettiest President that they would do just about anything to get rid of him. But instead of using a poison apple, he wired an evil troll named Linda Tripp for sound and bugged Princess Monica. Got it?”
“And, uh … let me see … so President Bill Clinton is Snow White?”
“Oh, Honey, I doubt that. Snow White is sort of like the Baby Jesus, you see. Looks great in a book but darn hard to copy in real life. Most grown-ups know that. But this evil ugly grinch duck queen … this Kenneth Starr fella … he’s so gnarled-up mad and resentful and spiteful because he and his friends haven’t been able to hang Bill Clinton on the Whitewater deal that he’s decided to get President Clinton on whatever he can. Remember the Boy Who Called ‘WOLF!” Only, for Kenneth Starr, a wolf never showed up, so now he’s calling ‘SEX!’ because he knows there’s a certain kind of people who are more afraid of sex than wolves. And incidentally, Sweetheart, those are the same kind of people who would rather have a wolf in the White House than a Democrat.”
“What are those certain kind of persons called, Dad?”
“They’re called ‘Republicans,’ Honey.”
* * *
“Dad, some of the kids at school are making fun of Mrs. Clinton for claiming there’s a big right-wing conspiracy trying to get rid of Mr. Clinton. It makes me feel bad but I don’t know what to say when they do that.”
“Aaah, Pum’kin … you should have told me sooner. You tell those kids that Missus Clinton was almost right but not quite. Ask those kids if they’ve ever heard of a coup d’état.”
“What’s a ‘coo dey taw,’ Dad?”
“Why, let’s look it up in your Magic School Bus dictionary, okay? Yup. Right here under ‘C’. A coup d’état is ‘a sudden, forcible overthrow of a ruler,’ and that’s a definite step up from a plain old conspiracy. Now, usually, a coup d’état happens down in Bolivia or Argentina, and it usually involves a lot of guns and soldiers and tanks and such. But there’s nothing in the dictionary says it has to, is there? There’s nothing in the dictionary that says a coup d’état can’t use a barrage of unsubstantiated accusations and an army of nit-picking partisan lawyers. You ask those darn kids at school if they can come up with a better explanation for what’s going on.”
“So, you’re saying the Kenneth guy is trying to shove Bill Clinton out real quick?”
“He’s doing his darndest, Hon. He and his friends want Bill Clinton to leave office in disgrace because they’re worried about how popular Clinton is right now. And they’re even more worried that their side doesn’t have anyone to run for President the next time who’d get a Valentines Day card if he didn’t bribe someone for it. So, in hopes of discrediting the entire Democratic Party, they’re trying to make Bill Clinton out to be some kind of … of … “
“EGG-ZACTLY, Sweetheart! You got it! They’re trying to make Bill Clinton out to be a nasty boy like Bart Simpson. But it’s not working, see, because there’s a lot more Bart Simpson’s in America than these Richie Rich types who think nobody can run the country better than they can.”
“And since they can’t beat Bill Clinton any other way, they trying to coo dey taw him out.”
“That’s the way I see it, Hon.”
* * *
“So, Dad, did President Bill Clinton do something with the Monica girl he shouldn’ta? Or not?”
“Uuuuuh, well … he said he didn’t.”
“But couldn’t it be like when you said it wasn’t you or Mom who put the quarters under my pillow? So I’d keep on believing in the Tooth Fairy?”
“There is that possibility, Hon. There is definitely that possibility. But do you remember in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when Willie Wonka wouldn’t tell little Charlie what was really going on until the very end? And for a while there, you thought maybe Willie Wonka was some kind of weird, twisted fiend?”
“Then you think Bill Clinton is like Willie Wonka, and he’s not telling us everything until the bratty kids show just how bratty they are?”
“Uh, yeah. Something like that. Maybe.”
“And the Kenneth guy is a brat?”
“Definitely. A twisted, grinchy, evil, brat duck. No doubt about it.”
“And so you think there was none of that oral sex stuff anywhere? And hey, Dad … what is that oral sex stuff, anyway?”
“Oh, Sweetheart. I think you heard wrong. They were saying ‘oral sacks.’ I’m pretty sure of it. It’s like … uh … DENTAL FLOSS! Only it comes in a SACK , see? And there’s no law against giving someone an oral sack . Jeepers, how ridiculous would that be … to have a law against oral sacks? Sheesh!”
(This is a critical juncture in the discussion. At this point, your child may be hurt and disappointed that her father would try to pull so much wool over her eyes. She might resent you for displaying such a blatant disregard for her intelligence and she might begin to see you in a brand new, and not entirely favorable, light. So be it. As you will find, it’s easier to be a washout as a father than it is to explain oral sex to your child. Live with it, Pops.)
“Dad, you aren’t gonna tell me what the knee pads are for, are you?”
“Sure I am, Pumpkin. One of these days a few years from now, you’re going to be working on some differential calculus homework for graduate school, and if you want to take a break and if you’re still interested in what Princess Monica planned on doing with knee-pads, I’ll be more than happy to tell you. But for right now, did you know it’s time for Arthur?”
“Ooooow, yeah. Hey, Dad, can I turn the sound up again?”
And there you have it. The best way to explain the sex scandal to your children. If you can’t find a cartoon show on teevee when you need it, rent 101 Dalmations. The little ones never seem to get tired of 101 Dalmation. And if your children are older, like teenagers, enroll them in an exchange student program with Finland until this all blows over.
March 5, 1998