In the current drama unfolding in Washington, much of the electorate is in denial, while Hillary Rodham Clinton is not. The first lady has never looked more confident or robust than now, when everyone in the West Wing is scurrying about doing her bidding. As so often in the course of their marriage, Bill has gotten into trouble, and Hillary cleans up the mess (or attempts to). His recklessness makes him dependent upon her, and her power is accordingly enhanced. Unlike the electorate, she is not denying reality -- she is using it to her own advantage.
The public, by contrast, is rallying to Clinton's side. The concerted attack on Judge Starr has worked magnificently. Three weeks ago, a majority of Americans said they were waiting for the facts. Last week, 64 percent of those responding to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll said Starr has "partisan, political" motives, and 57 percent said he should drop the investigation altogether! Those numbers can only mean that large segments of the American public are in denial. It isn't that they believe the president -- they simply don't want to know the truth.
The Clintons have been remarkably successful at changing the subject from their own wrongdoing to the tactics of Judge Starr. In the process, their own tactics have gone largely unremarked.
There is a saying among lawyers: When you have the facts, argue the facts. When you have the law, argue the law. When you have neither the facts nor the law, pound on the table. The pounding in this case has become deafening.
The Clinton White House has denounced the Starr team (which consists, by the way, of many Democrats) for expanding its purview from Whitewater to the president's private life. The independent counsel, the president's defenders sneer, has spent "$40 million on a 20-year-old land deal that went bad."
According to The Washington Post, Starr has spent $26.5 million to date. That is half the $50 million Lawrence Walsh spent. Walsh wound up with no convictions that stood up. Starr has achieved 16 indictments and 13 convictions -- including Clinton business partners Jim and Susan McDougal, former Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, and Assistant Attorney General and close Clinton friend Webster Hubbell.
Starr's investigatory responsibilities have been expanded several times but not at his initiative (this supposed Captain Ahab was ready to chuck the whole deal and retire to Malibu). Attorney General Janet Reno asked him to expand his probe to include the travel office controversy and the suspicious acquisition of FBI files on Republicans. On Jan. 16, she asked him to investigate possible perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges against the president in the Paula Jones case. Does this suggest an overzealous prosecutor or an exceptionally corrupt president?
Then there is the charge that Kenneth Starr is some kind of Torquemada, nosing about in the private love life of the president. Now, the notion that having sex with 21-year-old interns in the Oval Office or the study next door or anywhere in the White House amounts to private behavior is ridiculous. The White House, we are constantly reminded, belongs to all of us. But more to the point, there is an issue of public trust here. The president is expected to comport himself with dignity at all times. He is not some small-time potentate, building "presidential" palaces and enjoying the favors of virgins as perks of office. We call countries which tolerate that sort of thing corrupt.
But finally, the attacks on Kenneth Starr are meant to obscure the most profound point,
which is that this president's private and public behavior are inseparable. There is a
reason that this is the most scandal-ridden administration in history. There is a reason
that five independent counsels have been appointed to investigate Cabinet officers and
the president and first lady. And the reason is summed up in the ancient wisdom of
Heraclitis: Character is
2/13/98: Reconsidering Theism
2/10/98: Waiting for the facts?
2/8/98: Cat got the GOP's tongue?
2/2/98: Does America care about immorality?
1/30/98: How to judge Clinton's denials
1/27/98: What If It's Just the Sex?
1/23/98: Bill Clinton, Acting Guilty
1/20/98: Arafat and the Holocaust Museum
1/16/98: Child Care or Feminist Agenda?
1/13/98: What We Really Think of Abortion
1/9/98: The Dead Era of Budget Deficits Rises Again?
1/6/98: "Understandable" Murder and Child Custody
1/2/98: Majoring in Sex
12/30/97: The Spirit of Kwanzaa
12/26/97: Food fights (Games children play)
12/23/97: Does Clinton's race panel listen to facts?
12/19/97: Welcome to the Judgeocracy, where the law school elite overrules majority rule
12/16/97: Do America's Jews support Netanyahu?