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Once again, Hillary proves talk is cheap

Pierce and Demi and Liam were there. And Quentin and Salman and Spike and Amber. I never actually saw any of them. I had to content myself with glimpses of Kevin Bacon's pouffy hair and Madonna's pouffy biceps.

Descend with me to the seventh circle of buzz, the ground zero of zing, the hub of hip, the Sodom of synergy. Beneath the Statue of Liberty the masses, the tired and unhumble, yearning to be chic, huddled at Tina Brown's Talk party. In the glow of Chinese lanterns, here was the perfect Gotham froth _ the maitre d' of the Four Seasons and the window dresser for Barneys and the publicist for Kevin Costner and the toupee for Andrew Stein.

Queen Latifah was at the microphone chanting, pausing only to wonder whether the Miramax chief and Talk sugar daddy Harvey Weinstein pronounced his name "steen" or "stine."

There was, of course, a rigid caste system. An elderly man in a wheelchair was turned back after he mistakenly rolled down the gangplank toward a ferryboat reserved for celebrities and nicknamed the "star barge."

"The man in the wheelchair does not belong here," hissed a Talk sherpa, banishing him to the hoi polloi ferry even as he unfastened the chain for Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller.

Tina Brown was glowing. She had aced her first test. Everybody was talking about Talk. (Though the cover, laid out so that George W. appears to be leering at Gwyneth Paltrow's squished cleavage while Hillary gazes up, away from Paltrow's bondage lingerie, is jarring.)

The first lady unburdened herself in an interview with the adoring journalist Lucinda Franks, working for the adoring Weinstein. (Gwyneth, Tina and Hillary are the rough-hewn mogul's treasured troika of blond Miramax princesses.) Ms. Franks is married to Robert Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney, who is Rudolph Giuliani's old rival.

Fans and foes of Mrs. Clinton were left reeling by her contention that the president's chronic philandering was caused by "abuse" he suffered as a little boy when his mother and grandmother battled over him.

In a political climate that cherishes dissension, there is such rare unanimity of revulsion at Mrs. Clinton's interview that she is now trying to slink away from it.

Everyone is fed up with the creepy dynamics of this warped marriage. We have lost all hope of getting any shred of authenticity from either Bill or Hillary _ unless it's the authenticity of the deluded. They have chosen tactics over truth with such consistency that it's impossible to accept anything they say.

Many liberals were rooting for Hillary to run for the Senate as a payback for all the alley cat had done. She had been publicly stoic through bruising betrayals.

But once again, she has taken on a contradictory image with dizzying speed. Comparing herself to Jesus and her husband to the betraying Peter, Hillary says he has a "weakness," like a gambler or alcoholic. "Everybody," she says, "has some dysfunction in their families."

He's scarred, she says, by two women who adored him and who are not here to offer rebuttal. After talking about how hard it is for a guy to be yanked between female relatives, Hillary re-creates that very situation, forcing Clinton to choose between defending his mother and grandmother and agreeing with his wife.

She is right that the president has fine qualities. But how many people have to be smeared to get him off the hook? The Talk interview is like that old saw about the guy who would run over his own grandmother to help his career.

Her interview is also chilling in its casual acknowledgment of Clinton's infidelities. Hillary Clinton joined in efforts to dismiss as mendacious tarts all the women who claimed, truthfully, to have been involved with him. But now she concedes, oh, yeah, the boy's a mess.

For the Clintons, talk is always cheap.

Maureen Dowd is a New York Times columnist.

New York Times News Service