Most of us are willing to grant President Clinton a personal life, even a private personal life. And as the facts become clearer, we see that Ms. Lewinsky was not some poor innocent victim of an exploitive sexual predator, but an experienced young woman who pursued President Clinton relentlessly. (The Starr report helps President Clinton on this aspect of the issue.) Maybe he could be forgiven for his weakness in the face of temptation. But as he makes these vague apologies, referring to unspecified "inappropriate conduct," he doesn't seem to understand that it's the lying that has made so many people angry. He can't effectively handle this matter by offering vague apologies while his lawyers craft another round of wiggle-outs, word games, excuses and evasions.
He reminds me of a little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar. This is how he might have played it: "Actually, my hand wasn't in the cookie jar, it was just on the lid." "But little boy, you have chocolate chips smeared all over your face." "I can't recall eating any chocolate; you can't prove these smears are chocolate." "And there are crumbs on your clothes. . ." "Well, I was eating crumbs, not cookies, so I'm not guilty." "Weren't those cookies before you started eating them? That wasn't a jar full of crumbs, was it?" "I have no recollection. Aren't I entitled to snack privacy?" "Not before dinner." "But this was after yesterday's dinner, so I'm not guilty." Now the little boy is in deep trouble, not really because his hand was in the cookie jar, but because of his weaselly attitude. And that is why President Clinton is in trouble. He keeps hedging and dodging, only owning up to transgressions after he's been caught. He has used up all of our trust and our willingness to give him the benefit of the doubt.
There were lessons from history to guide him. Richard Nixon knew nothing about an inane burglary of limited value at the Watergate Hotel in June of 1972 before it happened. He didn't order it; he didn't plan it. He fell from the glory of a landslide victory to the disgrace of resignation because he lied, and got others to lie. It was the lying that ruined him and got so many of his associates temporary housing at various facilities in the Federal prison system.
President Clinton had another lesson from recent history—on how to handle an embarrassing situation effectively. Ronald Reagan's administration sold weapons to Iran in exchange for hostages, then diverted the proceeds to finance military operations in Nicaragua that Congress had expressly prohibited. President Reagan stood in front of the American people and said in effect "It looks like we did it—we had good intentions, but it was a bad idea—my people will tell the complete truth no matter where it leads." He took a few hits for being out of touch with his underlings. But this remains a minor blemish on his Presidency. In fact, the most prevalent public recollection from the "Iran-Contra affair" is the image of Ollie North in his Marine uniform, facing down Congressional interrogators. How would "Iran-Contra" have played if Ronald Reagan had schemed to cover it up?
Actually, I agree with President Clinton's lawyers. Even if every distasteful detail is true, this sordid little soap opera is not impeachment material. President Clinton may have committed some criminal acts, but they all relate to his attempts to cover up an embarrassing incident in his personal life. Especially now that we know he did not victimize a young, innocent girl, and that she was the aggressor in the affair, the whole matter seems more and more private. He does deserve to be punished for his trouble with telling the truth under oath, with something short of the drastic action of removal.
But the lies and evasions, followed by attempts to create new lies and evasions to get around previous lies and evasions, are wearing us out. President Clinton's advocates complain about the graphic details catalogued in the Starr "referral." But it has been the President's word-games and hair-splittings that have created the need for precise detail. His lawyers argue that Paula Jones' lawyers framed their deposition questions vaguely and imprecisely. But when he was asked precise questions in his grand jury testimony of August 17th, he wouldn't answer them to preserve the dignity of the Presidency! He can't have this both ways. And this type of shyster maneuvering grows more and more irritating. I am tired of it, and even while acknowledging that there may not be legal grounds for impeachment and removal, I find myself wishing this lying, conniving person would just go away.
The American people will not have the patience to endure another round of wiggle-outs. They are tired of having their intelligence insulted. If the President had owned up to his now-acknowledged mistake when the issue first arose, instead of trying to craft evasions in the worst traditions of legalese, he could have walked away from this mess. The biggest mistake he could make now would be to send forth legions of lawyers to play another round of word-games and wiggle-outs. President Clinton, please step up and "tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Admit precisely what you did wrong and accept the consequences. Because it's not the sex that has you in trouble. It's the lying, stupid!
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