Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / January 25, 1998 / 27 Tevet, 5758
For Monica's playmate, we have no one to blame but ourselves
REGARDING MONICA LEWINSKY, the latest chapter in The Unmaking of A President, a question for the American people: what did you expect?
From the moment Bill Clinton emerged as a national figure in 1992, his character was painfully apparent. Here was a man who lied about avoiding the draft during the Vietnam War, lied about his 12-year affair with a Little Rock cabaret singer and made a declaration on youthful drug use ("I didn't inhale") credible only to the first O.J. Simpson jury.
Then there was the percolating swamp of Whitewater -- the emerging details of self-dealing, bank loans traded for political favors and a border state looted from the executive mansion.
All of this was known, or easily surmised, and still you elected William Jefferson Clinton to the highest office in the land.
By 1996, the details had been fleshed out. State trooper/bodyguards came forward to testify that they had played men in lime-green leisure suits for then-Gov. Clinton.
We learned of the first lady's spectacular success in the commodities market, Travelgate, Filegate, the strange death of Vincent Foster, White House security clearances for people who belong in halfway houses and campaign contributions stamped "made in China."
This was capped by Paula Jones' plausible charge that, as governor, Clinton pulled a Bob Packwood on her (but with less finesse than the ex-senator ordinarily displayed). And still you re-elected the "Big Creep" -- an honor afforded only three other presidents in the post-war era.
The most disconcerting aspect of the Lewinsky affair is this: public outrage is focusing not on whether the chief executive had an affair with a woman a few years older than his daughter, in a small room off the Oval Office, but if he urged her to lie under oath.
Having been diligently instructed by the media, over the past six years, that even the most egregious sexual misconduct is no reflection on the ability to discharge the duties of public office, much of the public has come to believe it.
Granted, a quickie at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is no crime; suborning perjury is. But by all rights adultery -- frequent, flagrant, indiscriminate -- should disqualify a man from the presidency.
In 1975, Bill Clinton made a vow, before God and man, to honor and respect his spouse, and cleave only to her. It's difficult to imagine a more solemn bond. That he has broken this pledge, repeatedly and over many years, provides a stark assessment of the value of his word.
When his country called him to duty in its hour of need, he did everything lawful to avoid that summons. Could there be a clearer indication that our president is devoid of honor?
When he took the oath governor of Arkansas, there was at least an implied commitment to discharge his duties with integrity, not to use his position for personal gain. Does breaking that promise mean nothing?
This mountain of personal lies provides a vantage point for assessing the Clinton presidency.
For instance, is it any wonder that the president has lied about the withdrawal of American troops from Bosnia -- not changed his mind (even he wasn't naive enough to believe that after a year of NATO presence, peace would reign in the Balkans), but deceived, dissimulated and prevaricated?
Clinton's life has been a fabric of lies. The theatrical response to tragedy, the grand gestures (making a little cross of stones on the beach at Normandy), the calls to national greatness -- all are artful illusion, smoke from a special-effects expert.
Suborning perjury aside, if the affair with a 21-year-old isn't relevant, what would be? An affair with a 16-year-old? An affair with a blood relation? Maintaining a mistress with federal funds? Staging an orgy in the Lincoln bedroom?
If America is to have a future, we must refute the corrosive doctrine that private immorality has no bearing on public performance.
Many presidents have had their flaws and peccadilloes -- Grant drank, Cleveland fathered an illegitimate child, Nixon lied and obstructed justice to protect his friends. But the word flaw implies a blemish in an otherwise tolerable character. With Clinton, the flaws are all there is.
Much as I want to see justice done on the person of Bill Clinton, my satisfaction isn't unalloyed. By the time this character finally departs (O, hasten the day!), if the presidency has a shred of dignity left it will be a miracle. And the American people have no one to blame but themselves.
1/22/98: At Yale, bet on yarmulke over gown