Political Hay

The Fonda Syndrome

A 30-year meltdown continues.

By 4.11.05

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We've just completed a weeklong remembrance of Pope John Paul II, a man who once visited the cell of his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, to bestow Christian forgiveness. During the same week, who should re-emerge on the American scene but Jane Fonda, Hanoi Jane to so many, who, in a series of print and broadcast interviews, has attempted once again to explain why she gave aid and comfort to America's North Vietnamese adversaries in 1972.

To explain, but not to apologize. One of the Baby Boomers' favorite novels was Love Story, which counseled that "love means never having to say you're sorry." Jane Fonda hasn't learned much about love or repentance, probably because she has spent the last 40 years studying only one thing: herself.

Having spent a week meditating on the death of a giant like the Pope has had no lingering effects on the media's reverence for clinical narcissists like Fonda. She has just published a 600-page memoir, My Life So Far, a fitting title for a Boomer icon (she was born in 1937, but qualified for honorary Boomer status long ago). Though they never tire of congratulating themselves for trailblazing honesty, Boomers must always preserve the illusion that their lives are just getting started: Another cause, another tradition to smash, another love affair.

Speaking of relationships, Fonda tells Time that she is currently single and likes it that way. In the next sentence, she describes her meeting with a psychic who told her that -- stop the presses -- soon she'll meet her soulmate. Should we doubt that she will be married within a year or two?

On 60 Minutes, Fonda told Lesley Stahl that she regretted being photographed among the North Vietnamese with an anti-aircraft gun, but that she did not regret her radio broadcasts on behalf of the enemy. With logic even a child wouldn't understand, she claims that she did not ask American pilots to disobey orders, only "to consider" not bombing North Vietnam. She refuses to apologize for her role in spreading enemy propaganda.

About the infamous photos, Fonda writes in her book, "I simply wasn't thinking about what I was doing, only about what I was feeling," a neat distillation of the ethos of the 1960s counterculture. It was, she told Stahl, "the largest lapse of judgment that I can even imagine," but not, pointedly, a sin or equivalent moral transgression. Her error, it seems, was merely that she allowed herself to be caught on film.

She has been reminded about the consequences of her actions for 33 years by Vietnam veterans and POWs, and yet her awareness of suffering is still limited to her own, most of it self-inflicted: "I was the only person I could treat badly and consider that morally defensible."

For Fonda, like Bill Clinton and others of their ilk, it's all about the journey that they're on. The wreckage they leave behind is mere collateral damage in their ruinous quest for "meaning."

"Fonda has always been the intense type," Time's Josh Tyrangiel gushes. As proof, he cites her description of her home in Atlanta: "The entryway is a womb, and the door is a vagina," Fonda says. "I had it designed so that you're sort of delivered into the loft. Don't you love it?" Probably we shouldn't be surprised that pals of Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues) would construct their homes in this fashion. But as Shakespeare might have remarked, though this be intensity, yet there is shallowness in it.

Fonda's shallowness is best encapsulated by her conversation with Todd Purdum of the New York Times. Her life has been awfully complicated, she sighs, to which he inquires, reasonably enough, whether that isn't true for everyone. Her reply:

"Nobody's had a simple life, but I know many people who've had a normal life, and what I mean by that is a life without major crises and traumas, without any deep psychological wounds... " Ah yes, the simple lives of the salt of the earth, so free from the pain that great spirits like Fonda must traverse. In fact, Fonda needs to take respite among these uncomplicated souls from time to time:

"There are people who have been happily married to the same person and I love to be with them and I wish so much I'd met someone with whom I would now be celebrating my 40th and 50th wedding anniversary." But 40- and 50-year marriages usually entail enormous commitment, self-restraint, and the discipline of thinking before you act.

Jane Fonda, now a grandmother, has never learned that impulse is not a synonym for authenticity. "I wasn't dealt the cards that would make it possible for me to choose right for the long haul," she says.

Her self-pity knows no bounds, but she should spend more time thanking the heavens -- and the United States -- that she was never charged with treason, which is punishable by death.

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About the Author

Paul Beston is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal.