The President Finds Himself Alone at the Top

On Saturday, Jan. 17, after his six-hour deposition in the Paula Jones case, President Clinton canceled plans to go out to dinner with friends. An aide said he had had "a long day." Mrs. Clinton later said they "watched a movie and then had a good time that evening."

Only later did it emerge that, on that evening, Mr. Clinton also telephoned his secretary, Betty Currie, and asked her to come in on Sunday. He then asked her to check her recollection against his testimony, especially about Monica Lewinsky and whether they had been alone together. So, not all of that Saturday evening was devoted to a movie and a good time.

I cite this as one example of how the president has been striving to compartmentalize his personal problems and how that has led to increasing isolation of a normally gregarious and talkative man. By mid-February he could vent his feelings and frustrations mainly to lawyers who are protected by privilege from having to testify against him. Hillary Rodham Clinton also is protected - by husband-wife privilege - but it is questionable how completely he feels he can confide in her.

How he has changed

David Maraniss of The Washington Post, biographer of Clinton, found that something in him has changed since the allegations of sex scandal and perjury - that a sense of distance now separates him from the rest of humanity. Imagine what it must be like to know that your best friends, your aides, your secretary, and the Secret Service agents who protect you may end up before the grand jury, obliged to reveal the most intimate details of what they have seen and heard.

As revealed in his tapes and memoirs, President Nixon, under pressure of investigation, also kept a lot of his problems locked up within him and dissembled to his aides. Even in the best of times, Nixon was essentially a loner who confided little. Author Theodore White interviewed him at the height of the Watergate coverup and came away totally unaware of the extent of the trouble Nixon was in.

Clinton is, by nature, not a loner, but a crowd-pleaser and an almost compulsive talker. But now he is alone, beyond the clich of loneliness at the top. One wonders what he thinks about as he pursues his daily tasks, whether his mind wanders sometimes from bringing down Saddam Hussein to bringing down Kenneth Starr. And whom he can talk to about how wounded he feels.

* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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