'We're Getting Clinton Now As He Really Is.'

As usual, Camille Paglia is perturbed. At the moment she's angry over news reports that former Sen. Bob Kerrey was telling lesbian jokes in front of Bill Clinton and others at the New York restaurant Babbo last week.

Mind you, the openly gay Paglia is not offended by the gags themselves. "Gays and feminists are far too sensitive about what they feel are defamatory stereotypes out there," says the author of "Sexual Personae" and "Vamps and Tramps." But she thinks the incident shows Clinton's true colors. "We're getting Clinton now as he really is." NEWSWEEK's B. J. Sigesmund checked in with the speed-talking academic and took a few notes.

NEWSWEEK: What about this incident offends you?

Camille Paglia: Number one, I'm a free-speech militant and therefore want to defend the right of every American to tell offensive jokes in the worst possible taste. Satire is absolutely crucial to democracy. But what's interesting about it to me is what we're seeing here. I voted for Clinton twice and then got very disillusioned. What we're seeing here is what happens when the cocoon of the White House is stripped away. Clinton was used to having conversations surrounded by a phalanx of secret service and his luxurious, Versailles-like daily mode of living. We're getting Clinton now as he really is.

So this is his true self, in your opinion?

I think it goes on all the time. He and Vernon Jordon go out on the golf course and they talk locker room. They exchange locker-room tidbits about potential women marks. Like 'who's hot, who's not, who's great at this, who's not so good at that.' We've just never had a chance to overhear the kind of raunchy talk he's used to having with men. Now he's doing it in Babbo. For the first time, we're getting the reality. The media dropped the ball on the Monica Lewinsky thing in so many ways. Everyone acted as if it was just a momentary slip with Monica. Give me a break! There were women going in and out of that White House. Now I'm enjoying myself so much with Denise Rich and her 42-inch bust. It's like "Temptation Island." It's going to be a whole running series. "Bill Clinton's Sexual Adventures." How many ways can Bill Clinton now embarrass his wife?

Let's get back to the jokes. How did you feel about them as a lesbian? Is there anything wrong with a good lesbian joke?

I believe that gays and feminists are far too sensitive about what they feel are defamatory stereotypes out there. Like the protests over "Basic Instinct" in 1992. I thought they were ludicrous. We cannot have political consciousness constantly dictating the free give and take of everyday life. I would reject anyone saying, 'Oh, it's offensive to lesbians.' But I have to say, what we are seeing is that behind the PC liberal facade of so many politicians who fawn all over women's rights, groups and issues, there's still the same old opportunistic Don Juanism. There's still a predatory attitude of powerful men toward women who are dazzled by their positions. It's an epidemic in politics. It's male voraciousness with female witlessness, exhibitionism and self-proffering for ritual sacrifice. As Henry Kissinger said, power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. It would take a saint among these men to resist the women of every age flinging themselves at their feet.

Would this line of joking ever be appropriate?

I loved Howard Stern's stuff about lesbian dial-a-date. I thought it was phenomenally funny. It was very radical, and it was 10 years ago at this point... I like dirty jokes and bawdy jokes. I want to hear them. But I don't want to hear them at the next table if I'm having a professional dinner in New York at a nice restaurant. It was inappropriate for where they were....

If we had two guys drinking at a bar and trading stories, that's the right place for that. Sitting in a bar, not in a professional setting with a well-known woman professional, [former deputy White House counsel] Cheryl Mills, who's the one who [allegedly] warned them they were talking too loud. Obviously she was concerned about Clinton's reputation, and it certainly sounds as if she wasn't in on the joke. I think it's incredibly boorish behavior. Clinton is a boor. And he's a hypocrite and a misogynist. It's not that it's an offense to lesbians here. I think it's an offense to civilization.