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Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / March 10, 1998 / 12 Adar, 5758

Roger Simon

Roger Simon On truth and reality

WASHINGTON -- Truth does not mean the same thing to you and me that it does to a politician.

When you and I say we are telling the truth, that means what we are saying is in accord with reality.

Politicians find that definition unreasonably strict.

Terms like "truth" and "reality" are flexible, they say. What is true and real one day may not be so the next.

Enter Bill Clinton.

Back at the beginning of 1992, Bill Clinton was running for president and fighting for his political life. Stories accusing him Harasser of draft dodging and fibbing about marijuana use had already surfaced in the press when the Gennifer Flowers story crashed onto the scene.

Flowers claimed that she had a 12-year affair with Clinton while he was married and governor of Arkansas.

Fortunately for Clinton, Flowers sold her story to a supermarket tabloid, and so, Clinton's aides were able to dismiss it as "cash for trash" journalism, and then, they went on TV and savaged Flowers.

Flowers had incriminating tapes of conversations she had with Clinton, but Clinton's aides said those tapes had been "sliced and diced." In other words, they said the tapes were a fake and the relationship never happened.

They said she was a liar and Bill Clinton was a truth teller.

Clinton had a bunch of his friends from Arkansas -- dubbed the "Arkansas Travelers" -- get on buses and come up to New Hampshire, which was holding the first presidential primary, to tell people what an honest guy he was.

Since Clinton is a masterful performer, he rented a hall in Claremont, N.H., and invited local people in to ask him any questions they wanted. One asked him about Flowers.

"The affair did not happen," Clinton said.

A few days later, appearing on "60 Minutes," Clinton said Flowers was merely a "friendly acquaintance."

Interviewer Steve Kroft said, "I'm assuming from your answer that you're categorically denying that you ever had an affair with Gennifer Flowers?"

"I said that before," Clinton said. "And so has she."

"You feel like you've leveled with the American people?" Kroft asked.

"I have absolutely leveled with the American people," Clinton replied.

But was that true?

Nope. And Clinton now admits it.

This Jan. 17, Clinton admitted in a sworn deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit that he had sex with Gennifer Flowers.

When that hit the papers, a reporter asked White House spokesman Mike McCurry: "Mike, why should the American people believe the president's denial with regard to this (the Lewinsky accusations) when in 1992 he told us that he did not have an affair with Gennifer Flowers and apparently has now testified under oath that he did?"

McCurry gave the official response, one that had been carefully crafted earlier that day: "The president knows that he told the truth in 1992 when he was asked about that relationship, and he knows that he testified truthfully on Saturday, and he knows his answers are not at odds."

The press persisted. "Mike, you're saying there was no affair with Gennifer Flowers?" a reporter asked.

"I just gave the answer that I gave," McCurry said.

Privately, however, reporters were being told what Clinton meant in 1992: that he did not have an "affair" with Flowers because he had sex on only one occasion.

Whether sex on one occasion is the definition of a "friendly acquaintance" and whether Clinton was "leveling with the American people" is very much in the eye and ear of the beholder.

Many may not care if Clinton had an affair many years ago and whether he lied about it many years ago.

But it does raise questions about whether we can believe him now.

Or does it?

Clinton's approval ratings are in the 70s, the highest in history for a second-term president.

Ken Starr, the independent counsel investigating Clinton, has an approval rating of 12, which is so low it is almost enough to have someone put to sleep.

White House aides seem to recognize, however, that as good as the poll numbers are, there may be a certain limit to public patience with Clinton.

McCurry told me on Feb. 13: "He can't say, 'I'm doing a good job, so cut me some slack about telling the truth.' He can't say that. He has assured the American people that he has not had sexual relations with this woman and that he never told her not to tell the truth. ... And truth to the contrary would be very troublesome to me, to the press and to the American people."

Perhaps with that in mind, Clinton has adopted a new strategy where there are fewer ambiguities to his words: silence.

The president will not expand on what he already has said about the Lewinsky matter. Although his aides have promised he will address the issue more fully in the future, no such address is scheduled.

Not long ago, McCurry went to Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government to appear at a seminar. McCurry made a presentation and had answered several questions when one student asked: "How do you reconcile Gennifer Flowers?"

"I would never attempt to do anything with Gennifer Flowers," McCurry replied.

Too bad not everybody in the White House can say that.


3/5/98: No, I'm not harrassing Hillary
3/3/98: The Unforgettable Henny Youngman
2/26/98: Grow up, boys!
2/24/98: Go get 'em, Bill!
2/19/98: My 15 minutes
2/17/98: The manic-depressive presidency
2/12/98: Drip, Drip, Drip
2/10/98: Clinton tunes out the networks
2/5/98: The flight of the Beast: America's love-hate relationship with scandal
2/3/98: Speaking Clintonese
1/29/98: What the president has going for him
1/27/98: Judgment call: how Americans view President Clinton
1/22/98: Bimbo eruptions past and present
1/20/98: Feeding the beast: Paula Jones gets the full O.J.
1/15/98: Let's get it over with: it's time to deal with Saddam, already
1/13/98: Sonny Bono is dead, let the good times roll
1/8/98: Carribbean Cheesecake: First couple has cake, eats cake
1/6/98: PO'ed: a suspected druggie jumps through the employment hoops
1/1/98: Cures for that holiday hangover
12/30/97: Buy stuff now
12/25/97: Peace to all squirrelkind
12/23/97: Home for the Holidays: Where John Hinckley, never convicted, will not be
12/18/97: Bill's B-list Bacchanalia: Press and politicos get cozy, to a point
12/16/97: All dressed up... (White House flack Mike McCurry speculates on his next career)

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.