Wag the Potato

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"It's not that I object to your being a bastard, don't get me wrong there. It's your being such a stupid bastard." So said Lee Tracy to Cliff Robertson in The Best Man (1964), Franklin J. Schaffner's classy political nail-biter about pre-nomination maneuvering.

That lesson certainly held this week, as millions of crestfallen (and titillated) Americans turned toward Washington and cried "How could you do it? How could you get caught?" The government of the most powerful nation on Earth has been brought to a screeching halt -- by Paula Jones' lawyers. On Tuesday, America will tune in for the State of the Union Address, and probably snicker through the whole thing. ("He said 'private sector.' Huh. Huh-Huh. Huh-Huh.")

In the film, Henry Fonda plays a pol dogged by a handful of Clintonian traits: Intellect. Indecisiveness. And bushels of babes. But Tracy's ex-President Hockstader knew enough to ask him: "You didn't write them any letters, did you?"

Neither did Bill -- at least none we know about. But these days it's all about tapes. And the patron flick of wiretappers has got to be The Conversation (1974). Gene Hackman has the Linda Tripp role, a surveillance pro who gets hired to uncover an affair. Eerily, he plays the sax. And Linda, this part's for you: when the dirt Hackman digs gets folks in trouble, he develops a severe conscience problem. Stay till the end -- it's a doozy. Watching a tortured Gene tear up a Virgin Mary is chilling.

Now CP hates to step out of his idiom, but he likes to help any way he can. We learn from Mike McCurry that the Prez has a movie planned for Saturday night. We bet we know what it is. Wag the Dog, as you may have heard, is practically showing on the news these days. The pithier and very funny version, however, is at theaters now, and it may well be affecting our foreign policy at this sensitive juncture.

What did we learn today? First, that the ultimate hindsight strategies -- full disclosure and settling out of court -- both look pretty good right now. Second, that the President, by some accounts, lives like a rock star. And third: Be careful who you listen to, Linda. They're probably listening right back. Happy viewing, and please rewind all 17 tapes.

Oh, by the way: If Clinton's innocent, CP takes all this back.