Hillary Clinton has given new impetus to the paranoid style in American politics with her astounding claim that her peckerwood husband’s latest sexual-political scandal was the work of “a vast right-wing conspiracy” constituting “part of an effort, very frankly, to undo the results of two elections.” When President Nixon, at the height of the Watergate crisis, dismissed his accusers and critics as “left-wing kooks,” politicians, commentators, and plain citizens around the country, derisively hooting, suggested that he needed to have his head examined and then went ahead and did the job themselves. Nixon, they concluded, was a paranoid schizophrenic, a psychological cripple displaying symptoms of a moral pathology resulting from the warping effects of Quakerism, provinciality, and monogamy, among other horrors. Herself one of the left-wing kooks then attempting to overthrow Nixon’s presidency, Mrs. Clinton is probably not oblivious to the ironic nature of her absurdist claim. She must have gambled, rather, that comparisons are never drawn between left-wing conspiracy claims and right-wing ones. To no one’s surprise —her own included—she won.

Apprised of the First Lady’s remarks, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr released a terse but dignified statement calling her claims “nonsense” and pointing out that “our current investigation began when we received credible evidence of serious federal crimes. We promptly informed Attorney General Janet Reno, and she determined that the allegations merited further investigation.” The Attorney General, attending a concert, was so immediately seized by the conspiratorial frenzy that she signed the papers during intermission, granting the Independent Counsel jurisdiction in the matter of Monica Lewinsky and her presidential relationship. Mrs. Clinton, of course, made no reference to the role played in the crisis by her husband’s cabinet appointee, and in fact Janet Reno seems to have become a non-person following the firestorm that broke on January 21. The evening news shows on ABC and CBS treated Mrs. Clinton’s charges with respect, leaving it to NBC to observe that “demonizing the President’s accusers helps rally Democrats and distract attention from fresh charges against the President. In Clinton’s case the conspiracy strategy often worked, partly because there is indeed a core group of conservatives who consider this President unfit for office.” That, of course, is what opposition politics is all about.

As with every crisis pertaining to this administration, the British press has been furlongs ahead of American journalism. Writing in the London Daily Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard derided the view, widely accepted by American media, of Kenneth Starr as a “Republican Rothweiler.” The Independent Counsel, Evans-Pritchard wrote, is more suitably described as “a tame and placid man with the zeal of a plump sheep. Indeed, Mr. Clinton should be thankful that his so-called nemesis is in reality a Washington insider who craves the approval of the mainstream press and hates to rock the boat.” Evans-Pritchard calls Starr only “nominally a conservative,” a partner in a law firm (Kirkland & Ellis) which has contributed generously to the Democratic Party, and a member of a “subculture of like-minded Washington lawyers” which trades back and forth across party lines, open-minded to the point of appointing liberals to his Independent Counsel’s office. Where Hillary Clinton sees—more likely, professes to see—Starr’s Chamber as the tool of right-wing conspirators, American conservatives should regard him as a timid and ineffective appointee who neutered his own Whitewater investigation by eschewing threats to break crucial witnesses by thrusting them into jail, as was commonly done by the Watergate prosecutors.

While it was one of the President’s Men, Janet Reno, who set the prosecutorial ball rolling, Jerry Falwell, the well known countercultural guru, stands among The Creep’s most fervent defenders. Not even Linda Tripp, whom Hillary Clinton would probably like to see burned as a witch on Salem Square, has respectable rightist credentials, being a registered Independent in addition to a classified jobholder, planner, and coordinator in various corners of the federal government—including the White House, where she worked in the West Wing’s counsel office, the so-called Scandal Room. Evidence of conspiracy is more plausibly sought in Mrs. Clinton’s role, and that of her legal team, in buying Webster Hubbell’s silence, hiding his Rose Law Firm papers, persuading Ira Magaziner to misrepresent the composition of the health care task force, and sending former Senator David Pryor (D-AR) to ask Judge Susan Webber Wright to release Susan McDougal from prison.

The First Lady knows who her real enemy is, having to look no further as Senator Lauch Faircloth suggested—than her own bedroom. Since that fateful January morning, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of American antiques have likely been destroyed, and the Lincoln Bed is probably reduced to kindling as Hillary continues in battle mode. The President, she assures us, has gone back to work for the American people, from which we may infer that he is being serviced by two or three extra human vacuum cleaners, in addition to those who attended him before the scandal.

Hillary Clinton is Lady Macbeth without a conscience. The truly amazing thing about her and her bestial husband, however, is even less their lack of conscience than their lack of shame. To rise each morning and go about their daily duties, meeting with their staffs, with the Cabinet, and with the press (let alone speaking with their daughter on the telephone); going on television before an audience of 60 or 100 million people: maintaining, that is, the pretense of truth and human decency in the knowledge that everyone with whom they have contact or communication nows—this is not, as Hillary’s allies and admirers claim, superhuman behavior. Rather it is subhuman. If the Clintons were actual human beings instead of, as it now appears, members of some separate species, they would have resigned their co-presidency in the first days of the Lewinsky scandal, fled Washington, and hid themselves in the depths of the Mojave Desert or the loneliest parts of the Colorado Plateau. And they would not have taken so much as Hillary’s compact mirror with them.