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Jewish World Review /August 21, 1998

Larry Elder

Larry Elder

So very clintonuesque

BEFORE PRESIDENT CLINTON'S "apology" speech, a friend and I made a bet. Loser buys dinner. Will Clinton admit a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky and apologize to the nation? I said damning facts demand that Clinton, at minimum, admit the relationship and apologize.

"No," my friend said. Clinton -- in her opinion, a classic narcissist -- refuses to see that he did anything wrong. If pressed, Clinton could pass a polygraph over whether he had "sexual relations" with Monica Lewinsky. He will, she said, deny all while blaming others.

Well, Clinton strikes again. After that four-minute, five-second "speech," my friend and I quarreled for an hour over who won the bet! He never said, "I apologize" or "I'm sorry," my friend said. Agreed, but didn't he accept complete responsibility for the scandal? Sort of, my friend admitted, but then, Clinton retreated into the role of wounded victim and lashed out.

In any case, the real President Clinton stood up the other night. He vigorously asserted the "4-D" defense -- delay, deny, distort, demean. After issuing a statement of "regret" over having misled the country, Clinton, the man, the politician, the manipulator, re-erupted. Big time.

Accepting "full responsibility" for his troubles, Clinton sandblasted Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. Oh, he didn't use Starr's name, but he suggested the investigation evolved into a partisan witch hunt over trivial, personal matters. He called the Paula Jones lawsuit, which triggered the Linda Tripp/Monica Lewinsky mess, "politically inspired." (Note that no one labels lawsuits and injunctions filed by the ACLU, the NAACP or the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund as "politically inspired.")

Clinton bemoaned the invasion into his private life. "I answered their questions truthfully, including questions about my private life, questions no American citizen would ever want to answer ... (the investigation) has gone on too long, cost too much and hurt too many innocent people." And, get this, after admitting a "not appropriate" relationship with Lewinsky, he denied committing perjury!

Let's go to the videotape. For the Jan. 17, 1998, deposition in the Paula Jones case, Clinton's lawyers and the independent counsel agreed on the following definition of sex: "Contact with the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh or buttocks of any person with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person."

Question: "Did you have an extramarital sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky?" Answer: "No."

So Clinton admits a "not appropriate" relationship with Lewinsky but denies having denied it in his under-oath deposition. To quote Steve Martin, "Excu-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-use me."

The admission of a "not appropriate" relationship and an acceptance of "full responsibility" translates into blame everybody but the Taco Bell Chihuahua. Clinton delivered a focus group and poll-driven combative statement. What we have here, according to the president, remains a partisan-witch-hunt-at-taxpayers'-expense-about-my-personal-life-and-how-would-you-like-it-if-it-happened-to-you?

So why didn't the president use the word "sorry," admit real wrongdoing and throw himself on the mercy of the court of public opinion? The independent counsel probably possesses convincing evidence concerning perjury, subornation of perjury, witness-tampering and obstruction of justice -- all impeachable offenses. As in the Paula Jones deposition, Clinton probably faced tough and unexpected questioning based on at least some information unknown to Team Clinton.

Clinton continues to bank on the collective public yawn over this scandal. A strong stock market and a near 70 percent approval rating fuel the president's defiance. Unless the polls nose-dive, Clinton expects to stumble to the finish line. He might be right. Wrongly, the American people -- at least so far -- fail to appreciate the gravity of perjury and obstruction of justice. The law recognizes no distinction between perjury in a civil case vs. a criminal case. Nor does the law create a distinction between non-sex perjury and consensual-sex perjury. Indeed, the Clinton Justice Department prosecutes cases of perjury, including those involving lying to conceal consensual sex.

America's indifference sends a signal to all prospective witnesses. Do a cost-benefit analysis, and determine whether the lie promotes a "higher good." Then, lie.

After all, a cop who illegally seizes contraband promotes a "higher good" by falsely testifying to possessing probable cause. And surely we expect a husband, during a divorce, to lie about the location and amount of marital assets.

The fear of prosecution for perjury remains the only safeguard against false testimony. As the nation's No. 1 law enforcement officer, and as a lawyer who formerly taught constitutional law, Clinton should appreciate the sanctity of the rule of law, as well as the need to safeguard against a corruption of the judicial process through false testimony. When we wink at the chief executive's under-oath lying, we create a different and perverse kind of presidential role model.

As for my bet? Magnanimously, I agreed to pay. I can afford it. The Dow's at 9000.


8/21/98:So very clintonesque
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8/07/98: How much mea culpa?
7/24/98: ATM Al?
7/24/98: Advising the advisors
7/17/98: Camille Cosby's carelessness
7/9/98: Moses mugged
7/2/98: Al Campanis -- forever a racist?
6/25/98: And you thought "coke" was worse than smokes
6/19/98: Is Jasper ‘America'?
6/12/98: Guess who's not coming to dinner
6/5/98: What now, NOW?
5/29/98:What's next, ‘burger busters'?
5/21/98: 'Stuff' happens
5/18/98: This just in
5/11/98: Stepping up
4/30/98: Who's faking whom?
4/16/98:To spank or not to spank

©1998, Laurence A. Elder