WASHINGTON -- Inside the White House, the debate goes on about the best way to destroy That Woman, as the President called Monica Lewinsky.
Should they paint her as a friendly fantasist or a malicious stalker?
They hope it won't be necessary, of course. Maybe Kenneth Starr won't flip her. Maybe the Clintonites won't have to go out and maul a 24-year-old Valley Girl whose friends say she is "like, suicidal," a young woman who has already been traumatized by the creepy Starr and his marauding gang of F.B.I. agents.
But the Animal House President has messed up big time again, and he must be dragged back from the precipice by the bimbo patrol.
So far, it's been mostly a whispering campaign against Monica. But some Clinton supporters are whispering awfully loud.
"That poor child has serious emotional problems," Representative Charlie Rangel of New York said last night before the State of the Union. "She's fantasizing. And I haven't heard that she played with a full deck in her other experiences."
It helps that the President is attracted to women with big-cut hair and low-cut dresses. It makes it easier to slander them later.
At least some of the veteran Clinton shooters feel a little nauseated this time around, after smearing so many women who were probably telling the truth as trashy bimbos. It is a tricky matter, going after another young woman who really, like, loved the President, putting mushy valentines to him in the Washington Post personal ads, sending presents by messenger, paying $250 to get into a fund-raiser so she could follow him around like a high school kid waiting outside her boyfriend's biology class.
The Clintonites are worried that the public, having seen the tactic so often, starting with the private investigator hired by the '92 Clinton campaign to intimidate women from his past, might recoil.
Hillary Clinton knows her husband is a hound dog. She knew it before she married him. But they have their deal. He supported her when she messed up on Whitewater and health care. So if the Presidency hinges on "he said, she said," the First Lady won't hesitate to supervise the vivisection of the former intern.
Ms. Lewinsky, after all, is expendable. What really matters is the fate of the Republic and the fate of the Clintons. (For them, it is the same fate.)
It is ironic, of course, that they may paint Ms. Lewinsky as an erotomaniac. Feminists were outraged when Anita Hill was painted as one. It is probably just a matter of moments before we hear that Ms. Lewinsky is a little nutty and a little slutty.
The Clintonites need ammunition, and Ms. Lewinsky is pure Melrose Place. They will seize on her neuroses and transform them into vices. (They might also seize on Bill Clinton's vices and turn them into neuroses.)
The feminist icon in the White House doesn't flinch at smearing these women, even when she suspects they're telling the truth, because she feels they're instruments of a conspiracy. It may turn out that there are right-wing troublemakers involved here, but when Mrs. Clinton uses apocalyptic language she's just changing the subject.
Ms. Lewinsky must die so that the women of America can have better child care, longer maternity stays, toll-free domestic violence hot lines and bustling mutual funds.
Mrs. Clinton knows she can count on the complicity of feminists and Democratic women in Congress. They accept the trade-off in letting a few women be debased so that they can get more day-care centers.
The danger here is, spare the rod, spoil the President. If he escapes again, he will grope again.
Also, once you decide it's O.K. to sacrifice individual women for the greater good, you set a dangerous precedent. Mrs. Clinton's head might also wind up on the block.
Yesterday the sex casualty Dick Morris, commenting on the sex addict Bill Clinton, smeared the First Lady to defend the President.
"None of what I'm about to say is necessarily a fact," he said on KABC radio in Los Angeles. "But let's assume, O.K., that his sexual relationship with Hillary is not all it's supposed to be, let's assume that some of the allegations that Hillary -- sometimes not necessarily being into regular sex with men -- might be true," he said, going on to suggest the President might be justified in exploring other avenues of satisfaction.