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Jewish World Review / September 17, 1998 / 26 Elul, 5758

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg First impressions: on reading the Starr Report

HERE ARE SOME FIRST REACTIONS on reading the Starr Report --- yes, the who-o-ole thing plus both rebuttals from the Clinton camp, before and after. I've got to tell somebody, just to get a few things off my chest, and stomach:

"When I use a word,'' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.''

"The question is,'' said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things.''

"The question is,'' said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master --- that's all.''

And hasn't Bill Clinton always been a master of words? He can use the same phrase to mean one thing legally and another politically till it comes to mean nothing at all.

Now an even greater spectacle than the birth of an indecipherable language awaits. The American people are about to see sober and respectable citizens, some of them not even lawyers, defend or at least condone the practice of perjury, at least if it in any way involves a sexual relationship. (Or, in Clintonspeak, a nonsexual relationship.)

Call it the Clinton Defense, or maybe the Clinton Exclusion, which is what it will be called if the president beats this rap. For what happens to Bill Clinton will affect more than Bill Clinton. Anyone accused of perjury or suborning it, obstructing justice or witness tampering, will surely want to consider the Clinton Defense. And courts and juries will have to.

To judge from the polls -- which is, I grant you, a low and contemptible habit -- this is just what enlightened liberalism may be reduced to in the next few weeks. For a great number of Americans appear convinced that the president lied under oath but don't think it's a crime, or much of a crime, or a high crime and misdemeanor, or just don't care very much.

At this point it occurs that what happens to Bill Clinton isn't all that important compared to what's happening to the rest of us. A precedent is being set in law and well beyond the law. For the American people are on trial here, too. And we will see just how seriously we still take the law, and truth, and justice. And honor. We will see whether those old words have much meaning anymore, or have they, too, been reduced to clinton clauses? For in these polls is mirrored the whole, clintonized culture.

A man need not be serious to be dangerous. And it's more than possible that this talented but really quite ordinary huckster, this carrier of meaninglessness who always manages to survive, even thrive, while one crony after another meets disaster, may finally have succeeded, not by design or malice or intention, but just by the easy, contagious sway of his own ad-hoc bumbling, in corrupting a whole people.


9/15/98: George Wallace: All the South in one man
9/10/98: Here comes the judge
9/07/98: Toward impeachment
9/03/98: The politics of impeachment
9/01/98: The eagle can still soar
8/28/98: Boris Yeltsin's mind: a riddle pickled in an enigma
8/26/98: Clinton agonistes, or: Twisting in the wind
8/25/98: The rise of the English murder
8/24/98: Confess and attack: Slick comes semi-clean
8/19/98: Little Rock perspectives
8/14/98: Department of deja vu
8/12/98: The French would understand
8/10/98: A fable: The Rat in the Corner
8/07/98: Welcome to the roaring 90s
8/06/98: No surprises dept. -- promotion denied
8/03/98: Quotes of and for the week: take your pick
7/29/98: A subpoena for the president:
so what else is new?
7/27/98: Forget about Bubba, it's time to investigate Reno
7/23/98: Ghosts on the roof, 1998
7/21/98: The new elegance
7/16/98: In defense of manners
7/13/98: Another day, another delay: what's missing from the scandal news
7/9/98:The language-wars continue
7/7/98:The new Detente
7/2/98: Bubba in Beijing: history does occur twice
6/30/98: Hurry back, Mr. President -- to freedom
6/24/98: When Clinton follows Quayle's lead
6/22/98: Independence Day, 2002
6/18/98: Adventures in poli-speke

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate