I'll be down in Washington this week to talk about my new book, Mirage , about the adventures and misadventures of the French scientists who founded Egyptology. While poking around in the temples and pyramids, these atheist scholar-explorers were participating in another, long-ago failed effort to bring democracy to the Islamic world by violent force. Their experience turns Marx's observation that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce, on its head: Napoleon and his "living encyclopedia" in Egypt were much more farcical than the unremitting tragedy of Bush II's Iraq war.
Returning to D.C. always brings back memories of my happy years there during the '90s when I made lots of friends and met the man I ended up marrying. It also reminds me why I don't miss living there now: the self-righteous and supposedly apolitical establishment that rules the nation's capitol.
On this trip across the beltway, I am more aware of these folks than usual because of a fresh encounter. A few weeks back The Washington Post asked me to write an essay about a new book on the Clinton marriage, For Love of Politics. (Note: I had a good feeling about the book right away because that's my husband's photograph of Bill and Hill on the cover, and for that reason alone, it is worth checking out in a Barnes and Noble aisle, if not actually buying.)
You can read the full essay here, but in short, I said I didn't believe the Clintons were married "For Love of Politics" alone, and that, in fact, I believed Hillary Clinton actually loved her faithless man. I based this on having met and interviewed both of them, in person, on various occasions, and having had to watch them in public over a period of years. Women's instinct, in other words.
Not terribly surprised was I to note that before that day's paper had even been opened by the average Washingtonian, (wait, make that the average New Yorker, the average Washingtonian has already jogged around the Mall and donned a uniform before the average New Yorker has smelled a cup of coffee) an apparently insomniac internet goon named Tim Graham had penned a screed dissing The Washington Post for having me review the book. Graham is the lifetime College Republican running "Media Research Center," one of the most persistent groups to express shock and awe over what one of the newsweekly wags called my "quote of the century." Those unfamiliar with my sarcastic remark need only google my name and the word blowjob.
I said it (back in 1998, but a good quote has eternal life) because I thought it was high time for someone to tweak the white, middle-aged beltway gang taking Clinton to task for sexual harassment. These men had neither the personal experience nor the credentials to know sexual harassment when they saw it, nor to give a good goddamn about it if they did. The insidious use of sexual harassment laws to bring down a president for his pro-female politics was the context in which I spoke.
Within days of my review of her book, author Sally Bedell Smith herself had taken up the trolls' cry, smashing one of my naïve assumptions about best-selling authors, which is that they are above ad hominem attacks on reviewers. Before turning to the evergreen (in terms of marketability) subject of the Clinton marital mysteries, Smith, a member in good standing of the Washington establishment, made a handsome living with major books about pop/haute figures like Princess Di and Pam Harriman. In her online Post discussion, she slagged me as "discredited" and "unprofessional" and repeated the absolute lie that I "tried to have sex with" Bill Clinton.
For the record, Ms. Smith, anyone who actually tried to have sex with Bill Clinton probably succeeded.
Besides the sanctimony, what really gets me about Smith and these D.C. establishment women is that they are of the age and experience, being the first females in their fields, to have personally known sexual harassment. They know the difference between being a victim of sexual harassment and flashing a thong at the boss. Yet not a single one of them stood up to explain that during Clinton's impeachment, nor, to my knowledge, since. These profiles in courage have always let Tim Russert and Tucker Carlson control the discourse, while they wait in the green room for their chance to chat on national TV with the boys.
On this visit to Dream City, I'll be happy to debate Sally Bedell Smith or any of the Washington establishment babes on what sexual harassment really is, and what's really "unprofessional" for women of my generation to talk about in a national politics that's been hijacked by extreme conservatives who could care less about women's rights in the workplace -- or anywhere else for that matter.
I'll be speaking at Olssons in DuPont Circle, Thursday. Come on by. To read more about my book, check out the Powells essay here.