Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / January 23, 1998 / 25 Tevet, 5758
SUPPORTERS OF THE PRESIDENT -- and they are garrulous as can be on C-SPAN -- see an embattled chief executive forced to fight off attacks launched from the "far right." Does Clintonophilia do something peculiar to the brain? Is it like mad voter disease?
This president is not persecuted -- he generates dirt like the "Peanuts" character Pig Pen. One woman caller to C-SPAN recited what has become a mantra for Clintonites: "We don't care about his sex life. We just want him to do what's right for the country and for West Virginia." That lady may not have been speaking for the majority. But her brand of moral obtuseness is surprisingly widespread.
Let's get this out of the way: there is nothing wrong with a sex scandal. Sex isn't always, but certainly can be, scandalous. Honorable men and women are rightly appalled by the inability of grown men to control their sexual behavior. For a married man to have affairs is scandalous. For the sitting president of the United States allegedly to hit on a 21-year-old intern, a woman over whom he wielded total authority, is nothing less than villainous. There are members of the military -- over which the president presides -- who have been dishonorably discharged for less.
Are the allegations true? We don't know. But just as those with a particle of common sense never doubted that Gennifer Flowers was telling the truth, we now have the spectacle of President Clinton lying carefully. Students of the Flowers tapes will recall that the president counseled Flowers to lie about it as well. I say those with an ounce of common sense knew he was lying because the tapes she produced proved beyond question that these two people were intimates. There was no sex talk. But there were the kind of familiarities one doesn't share with casual acquaintances. "Hey, babe, I tried calling you, but ... "
He then offered his most private thoughts about the campaign, about his opponents -- including Mario Cuomo (to whom he later apologized while claiming that the tapes were a fake) -- and about other matters. It was not what one would call an arms'-length transaction.
Today, we are reminded, in the midst of the breaking story, that nothing has yet been proven about the president. True. But why is he acting so guilty? And why do his closest associates obviously believe he's guilty?
The president's answers have been as clipped and carefully scripted as one would expect from a guilty man. When Jim Lehrer asked, "You had no conversation with this young woman, Monica Lewinsky, about her testimony or possible testimony before -- in giving a deposition?" The president replied: "I did not urge -- I did not urge anyone to say anything that was untrue. I did not urge anyone to say anything that was untrue. That's my statement to you." Seems to me an innocent man would want to shout his outrage from the rooftops, say it every which way from Sunday, rather than carefully craft a statement that keeps his options open.
As someone who once worked in the White House, I find it more than a little significant that the president did not deny speaking to the woman. Interns' calls to the Oval Office are not routinely taken. Heck, in the Reagan administration, even assistants to the president had to make an appointment through the chief of staff before speaking with the Big Guy.
And then there is the response by George Stephanopoulos and James Carville, both close associates of the president. Stephanopoulos did not dismiss the allegations. Instead, he said that if true, they would be impeachable offenses. And Carville, while seeming to support the president on CNN, betrayed his belief in the president's guilt in the following way: when Wolf Blitzer reported that someone in the White House had called Lewinsky "unstable," Carville jumped in to deny this. "I must have talked to the White House 20 times today, and nobody said anything like that," he told Larry King.
What Carville was obviously worried about was the Bob Bennett effect -- so angering the person involved that he or she decides to retaliate. Carville must have been thinking: "If she hears that, she might just spill her guts to Kenneth Starr to get even." What was clearly not of concern to Carville that night was the notion that the president was falsely
1/20/98: Arafat and the Holocaust Museum