The first attempt to raise my consciousness about Internet pornography took place many moons ago at a tony Newport Beach restaurant with a crowd of laminated Newport Beach ladies. They dined on salads and fresh-fruit meringues while casting covetous glances at my enormous slab of cheesecake, and we all listened attentively as Donna Rice Hughes lectured us about online smut.Hughes first came to the world's attention perched on the lap of Democratic presidential front-runner Gary Hart in the infamous photograph that cost Hart the 1988 nomination. Years later, she wound up the spokeswoman for an anti-pornography group called Enough Is Enough, and she was in Newport Beach to spread the word about the perils awaiting children on the Net. The Newport Beach ladies were responsive, clucking in civilized outrage at her descriptions of the salacious materials available online. The experience rated a full 8 on the Bizarre-o-meter.I came away from that lunch with two convictions. The first was that the amount of hairspray at the table must have put a severe dent in the ozone layer. The second was that conservatives and I inhabit different worlds when it comes to online porn. Where to me it seems that censoring the Internet is (a) unworkable and (b) puts a real crimp in the Constitution, to many right-wingers, it seems self-evident that we must protect children from immorality at all costs, even if that means curtailing adults' rights to be consenting pervs. I'm sure the nice ladies at my luncheon, including Hughes, would simply not understand how I could see it differently.Which is why I find it vastly entertaining that some of the worst online smutmongers these days are conservatives. I'm talking, of course, about Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's report to Congress on possible impeachable offenses by President Bill Clinton.Many are arguing that the report, which was released online just a few hours after the House voted to make it public, is a watershed event for the Internet, like the Kennedy assassination was for network television and the Gulf War was for CNN. Within hours, the report had propagated to sites across the Internet. (If you haven't yet read it, it's available on the OC Weekly home page [www.ocweekly.com], among many others.) But some are also bemoaning that the Internet's coming of age had to be such a tawdry one. As I'm sure everyone in the world now knows, the Starr report contains clinical details of Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Tales of semen-stained dresses, cigars and vaginas, oral sex, the fondling of breasts, and more abound, in such lavish particulars as would not stand out on any given erotica site. Details like these tend to send conservatives into a frenzied tailspin of disgust. But apparently, when a Democratic president is involved, such stories of passion become not just tolerable but also something to be actively disseminated online. The Orange County Young Republicans (OCYR) site (www.ocyr.org), for instance, is twisting itself into paroxysms of glee over the Starr report. I disagree with the OCYR on virtually every issue of substance, but I have a sneaking affection for their site; they're spunky, and they have a sense of humor-a rarity on the Right. For example, their "sponsor" for the site is "XXXtra long Lewinsky cigars-let it tickle your pink." The California Federation of Republican Women site (www.cfrw.org) carries a copy of the report, as does the Concerned Women for America site (www.cwfa.org), an ultraconservative California organization known for its efforts against equal rights for women and for textbook censorship. The California College Republicans site (www.college-republicans.org) and the California Republican Party site (www.cagop.org) both link to a copy of the report. Republican Congressman Chris Cox links to it on his official House site. (Cox, incidentally, argued at a Sept. 16 press conference that he felt Clinton's videotaped grand jury testimony, which was released over the Internet a few days later, "does not fall in the category [of pornography]." But the Starr report, which contains many of the same explicit details, was banned by several of the filtering-software programs Cox's party is continually pushing.) Interestingly, given the impact many Democrats fear and Republicans hope the Clinton scandal will have on the upcoming November elections, none of the OC campaign sites I looked at-from Dan Lungren to Barbara Boxer to Bob Dornan-made mention of the report. And, unsurprisingly, none of the California Democratic sites I ran across carried a copy.But the conservative sites that decided to carry the Starr report, with all its explicit sexuality, appear to value the chance to score a few political points over traditional moral values. Concerned Women for America, for example, has long spoken out against children's access to pornography online. The organization backs the use of filtering software in libraries and strongly supported the infamous Communications Decency Act, arguing, "The First Amendment was never intended to protect indecency." (Pause for hysterical laughter here.) Ironically, had the CDA stood up to constitutional scrutiny, it very well might have prevented the Starr report from being disseminated online and denied conservatives an opportunity to strike at one of their favorite targets: Clinton.Of course, the CDA didn't stand-it was clearly unconstitutional from the beginning. But a great many politicians voted for it anyway because it provided an opportunity for cheap moralizing and let them look upstanding in front of their constituents. And more legislation-filtering software in libraries, the so-called "Son of CDA" aimed at commercial porn sites-is lining up to take the CDA's place. With any luck, the Starr report will turn out to be a watershed event for the Net. Maybe conservatives will realize the true problem with restrictive legislation is that it tends to restrict legitimate discourse right along with socially irredeemable (but fun) smut. Maybe they'll finally realize that any time you take the reins of censorship in your hands, you run the risk of it turning around and biting you in the ass.Turn on Wyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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