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Jewish World Review /Oct. 9, 1998 /19 Tishrei 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

Can just sex be impeachable?

ACCORDING TO THE DEMOCRATS, Bill Clinton is guilty of nothing more than having an extramarital affair. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., asked whether we wanted to have "prosecutors with unlimited powers, accountable to no one, who will spend millions of dollars investigating a person's personal life, who then haul before grand juries every person of the opposite sex the person has had contact with ... "

The Republicans, on the other hand, insist that the president's misconduct has nothing whatever to do with sex but with perjury, obstruction of justice and subornation of perjury. Appearing on "Meet the Press" last week, Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., having been reminded of his own extramarital affair 30 years ago, insisted that the sex was not the issue.

Republicans -- even those who have committed sexual sins -- should stop saying that. Of course, the sex is part of the problem -- and not just because it led to the perjury, obstruction and other crimes. To call the president's conduct with Monica Lewinsky "an extramarital affair" is really to grant it a dignity it doesn't merit.

The president's defenders have hit the "affair" theme hard, insisting that no historical figure could withstand a searching inquiry into his private life. Why, Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower had affairs, they say, and we would not have wanted them impeached!

Well, in the first place, it is by no means clear that Eisenhower ever had an affair with Kay Summersby. Historian Gil Troy, author of "Affairs of State," has written that Ike, while separated from Mamie (and, by the way, saving Western civilization by winning World War II) was clearly fond of his young, vivacious driver. But there is no evidence that a sexual affair ever took place. For Clinton's mouthpieces to assert it as fact is contemptible.

Those of low character always seek to defame the virtuous in order to make comparisons with themselves less painful. Such assertions go down smoothly with a nation that has lately been instructed, also without evidence, that Thomas Jefferson used a 13-year-old black slave as a concubine and that Christopher Columbus was a genocidal agent of European colonialism.

Roosevelt had an extramarital relationship early in his marriage, while he was serving as assistant secretary of the Navy. He ended the relationship with Lucy Mercer (later Rutherford) at the insistence of his wife and mother. As it turned out, she was with him when he died, in Warm Springs, Ga. -- as was his daughter Anna -- a fact that caused Eleanor Roosevelt great pain in her widowhood.

The Roosevelt/Mercer relationship lasted for decades, was between two adults close in age and appears to have been a love affair. That does not justify it morally, but it places it on a plane quite different from the Lewinsky indulgence.

For all that the president's men now cry "private matter" about his conduct, there was very little that was private about the affair between Clinton and Lewinsky. Instead, the thing smacked of exhibitionism. They chose to conduct their trysts in or near one of the most public rooms in the world. And they kept the door ajar. Clinton told Lewinsky that this was to allay suspicion. But was it also an invitation to disclosure? Kathleen Willey told the world that when Clinton grabbed her and she protested, "Aren't you worried that someone will come in?" he shrugged it off.

These are not the actions of a lover, even an illicit lover. This is the conduct of a profoundly juvenile man giddy at his power and utterly deaf to notions of propriety, honor or decency.

He used Lewinsky as a sex toy, unzipping his fly and gesturing for her to service him while he chatted on the telephone -- even, on one occasion, while discussing deploying U.S. troops to Bosnia with a congressman. Surely not even in the '90s can that be called an "affair." The sex, standing alone, was an abuse of office.

We don't elect presidents to act as moral exemplars. But we cannot tolerate utter louts either. Clinton's conduct is illustrative of the moral rot that has already done severe damage to the nation. Failing to punish him will only accelerate the decline.


10/07/98: Repeal Miranda
10/02/98: Understanding the polls
10/01/98: What school texts teach about marriage
9/28/98: Fear of choice
9/23/98: A fork in the road: Bubba's fate and ours
9/18/98: Christianity and the Holocaust
9/16/98: The national dirty joke
9/11/98: Are we in crisis?
9/09/98: Does Burton's sin let Clinton off the hook?
9/07/98: Liar's Poker
9/01/98: One, two, three
8/28/98: Fat and folly
8/25/98: When homework is a dirty word
8/21/98: The unravelling
8/18/98: The wages of dishonesty
8/17/98: Sex, honor and the presidency
8/12/98: Pro-choice extremist
8/10/98: Switch illuminates biology's role
8/05/98: The presumption of innocence and the American way
8/03/98: An American hero
7/29/98: Lock up those who need psychiatric care
7/24/98: Making the military more like us
7/22/98: The 'Net sex hoax... and us
7/20/98: Disappointed by Cosbys
7/15/98: Feelings, not morality, rule
7/10/98: Guns as the solution?
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7/6/98: The China behind the headlines
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6/26/98: The Republican city
6/24/98: Poison pen
6/22/98: Clinton: inventing his own reality?
6/16/98: Senator mom?
6/12/98: Wisconsin: a trail blazer?
6/9/98: These girls say no to sex, yes to excellence
6/5/98: Lewinsky's ex-lawyer would feel right at home as Springer guest
6/2/98: English? Si; Republican? No!
5/29/98: The truth about women and work
5/27/98: Romance in the '90s
5/25/98:Taxing smokers for fun and profit
5/19/98: China's friend in the White House
5/15/98: Look out feminists: here comes the true backlash
5/12/98: The war process?
5/8/98: Where's daddy?
5/5/98: The joys of boys
5/1/98: Republicans move on education reform
4/28/98: Reagan was right
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4/21/98: The patriot's channel
4/19/98: Child-care day can't replace mom
4/15/98: Tax time
4/10/98: Armey states obvious, gets clobbered
4/7/98: A nation complacent?
4/1/98: Bill Clinton's African adventure
3/27/98: Understanding Arkansas
3/24/98: Jerry Springer's America
3/20/98: A small step for persecuted minorities
3/17/98: Skeletons in every closet?
3/13/98: Clinton's idea of a fine judge
3/10/98: Better than nothing?
3/6/98: Of fingernails and freedom
3/3/98: Read JWR! :0)
2/27/98: Dumb and Dumber
2/24/98: Reagan reduced poverty more than Clinton
2/20/98: Rally Round the United Nations?
2/17/98: In Denial
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?

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.