Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / January 27, 1998 / 29 Tevet, 5758
What if it's just the sex?
PRESIDENT CLINTON'S COUNTERATTACK, stage-managed by his wife, has begun. The story he is sticking to, for today, is that allegations of an affair with Monica Lewinsky are false and suggestions that he may have suborned perjury or obstructed justice are really, really false.
And so the familiar Clinton game of deny and delay resumes. Someone should ask Clinton not whether he told anyone to lie but whether he or Vernon Jordan told Lewinsky to tell the truth. For, as the ever perspicacious David Frum of the Weekly Standard points out, the president, knowing that the Gennifer Flowers tapes (in which Clinton counseled Flowers to lie in similar circumstances) are extant, would have been careful to word his recommendations in orotund generalizations, like, "You know how important the work of this administration is. You know how many people would like to see us destroyed. I know you don't want that to happen." That may not be suborning perjury (or it might), but it isn't exactly full disclosure.
When the president's admirers scold the press for "tabloidizing the news," one can only respond that, alas for all of us, this president leads a tabloid life.
The deeper sadness is that with every dodge, lie, wink and evasion, with every abuse of power and with each new episode of contempt for law and mores, Bill Clinton has succeeded in lowering the already dismal standards of morality that prevail in 1990s America.
The sophisticates say private morality is irrelevant to a president's conduct of his office. Yet, as Melinda Sidak of the Independent Women's Forum has pointed out, the smart set would be the very first to abandon ship if someone came forward with tapes showing that, in private, Bill Clinton indulged in racist jokes. The outcry might be enough to drive him from office if it were conclusively shown that he were a private racist. Why? Not because anyone would suppose that the president's public policies would change but only because the sin of racism is considered insupportable by what passes for polite society today. To accept a known racist in the most prestigious office in the world would violate our ideas of propriety.
Is an extramarital affair conducted in the White House with a 21-year-old intern enough to qualify for impeachment? It should be. The president's lack of personal morality is now defiling the White House and disgracing the office he holds. Just when the rest of America is beginning to recognize that sexual morality matters, that loyalty to spouse and children should trump personal pleasure, that the sexual revolution has brought in its wake more misery and pain than anything else -- we have at the center of our national life a libertine who is not above abusing his office to obtain the sexual services of impressionable young employees.
One Virginia mom complained, "The last time I had to shield my children from the news, it was during Marv Albert's troubles. Now, I must protect my kids from hearing news about the president of the United States!"
There is, of course, a significant minority in America that is as corrupt and decadent as the president who represents them. Monica Lewinsky's mother would appear to be among them. When confronted with some of the sordid details of her daughter's predicament, Marcia Lewis is reported to have asked, "So, what's the big deal?" And some percentage of man-on-the-street interviews fall into the "Leave him alone, it's only sex" department.
But the lies and tawdriness have surely now gone beyond the minimal standards that most Americans expect from their chief executive. The president doesn't run the country, but to some extent, he is supposed to embody the country. Is it mere coincidence that during this presidency, the prestige of the office has suffered such a rout that most mothers say they would rather their children not grow up to be president?
With each scandal that he escapes unscathed, President Clinton lowers our collective standards. He would surely agree that private morality is irrelevant. He probably also believes that matters most of us consider public morality -- like stealing elections, snooping in the private FBI files of political opponents and fostering personal enrichment through government influence -- don't matter.
William Clinton has no shame; the question is, do the rest of
1/23/98: Bill Clinton, Acting Guilty