JWR Eric BreindelMona CharenLinda Chavez
Jacob SullumJonathan S. TobinThomas Sowell
Robert ScheerDon FederRoger Simon
Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / February 13, 1998 / 17 Shevat, 5758

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum Feeling his pain... and a little pleasure

A WEEK AFTER ZIPPERGATE broke, CNN presented two hours of self-flagellation in which a panel of journalists pondered whether their coverage of the scandal amounted to "media madness." At one point, host Jeff Greenfield asked the panelists whether they were enjoying the story -- a sin none of them was prepared to confess.

CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren came closest, saying, "I find this very interesting and have read almost everything, and I wish I hadn't, and I'm embarrassed of that." By contrast, CBS anchor Dan Rather piously declared, "I hate this story, everything about this story. ...I hate it because I love my country."

Well, call me unpatriotic, but I love this story, and I'm not embarrassed to admit it. The O.J. case barely piqued my interest. I could not fathom the attention to Princess Di, dead or alive. But I am fascinated by this Zippergate stuff. I flip from one news channel to another, eagerly await the morning headlines and read all the sidebars and transcripts.

Zippergate is funny and bizarre, titillating and suspenseful, vastly entertaining and richly satisfying. On top of all that, it's good for the republic. What more could you want from a scandal?

I remember listening to the radio while driving to work the day Anita Hill testified about Clarence Thomas's bad manners. As the senators solemnly questioned her regarding porn movies and pubic hairs on Coke cans, I started laughing. Like much of what Congress does, it was amazing and ridiculous. But I felt a little guilty about being amused. I didn't think Thomas deserved to be vilified, even if he had made a few inappropriate comments at the office.

In the case of Zippergate, I feel no such compunction. The Clintons, who are unrivaled in their ability to combine sleaziness and self-righteousness, deserve every bit of humiliation and inconvenience they are suffering. The shady deals, the misplaced evidence, the illegal contributions, the unauthorized snooping, the vindictive character assassination and the routine dissembling are pretty much what we expect from politicians. But the bragging about high ethical standards and the lectures on the need for civility, responsibility and altruism -- that is hard to take.

One of the wonderful things about Zippergate is the way it showcases the Clintons' hypocrisy, forcing them to look us in the eye and indignantly tell us bald-faced lies over and over again. The task is made easier by their refusal to discuss any details of the president's relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Clinton says he's constrained by the ongoing investigation, which is true: He has to wait and see what evidence Ken Starr produces before he can decide what really happened.

Now, many people say that what went on between the president and the intern is none of Starr's business, and I tend to agree. I'm no fan of the Independent Counsel Statute or of sexual harassment law, the basis for the Paula Jones suit that put Bill and Monica on the spot to begin with.

But Clinton is in no position to complain about either. He pushed for reauthorization of the law that gives prosecutors like Starr free rein, and he is allied with the feminists and trial lawyers who seek to make federal cases out of lewd remarks and dirty jokes.

What's more, Clinton long ago forfeited any claim to keep his adultery private. During the 1992 campaign, when Gennifer Flowers started making the rounds, he could have declined to comment, insisting that his relationship with her was irrelevant. But he wasn't prepared to take that chance. Instead, he went on 60 Minutes and denied the affair.

Still, is lying about such things, even under oath, an impeachable offense? I hope not. I do not relish the thought of President Al Gore. I rather like the current situation, with a story about Zippergate on the front page of The New York Times every day, leaving the president politically crippled despite his soaring popularity.

I probably would feel differently if I thought Clinton might do something worthwhile during the next few years. But on almost every issue -- free speech, privacy, property rights, drug policy, gun control, health care, education -- he has favored government power over individual freedom. Clinton keeps saying he has to "get back to the work of the country." Given his record, I don't see how any good could come of that.


©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.