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Jewish World Review June 25, 2004 / 6 Tamuz, 5764

Diana West

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Consumer Reports

The legacy of lasciviousness | This being National Bill Clinton Awareness Week, I have some questions for the former president. I would like to know more about the "sofa" he says he slept on after informing his wife, the future junior senator from New York, that Monica Lewinsky was not a figment of the imagination of the vast right-wing conspiracy. Is it still in the White House? Shouldn't this historic piece of furniture go to the Clinton Legacy Wing of the Smithsonian Institution?

After all, that sofa is posterity's direct link to what Bill Clinton singularly calls "the worst day" of his administration. Worse than the day of Mogadishu, or impeachment, or any Al Qaeda attack that occurred on his watch, that "worst" day must have been pretty bad. At least for him. For the rest of us, this revelation recalls the essence of the Clinton presidency: the narcissism of it all. It was all about him, and it still is.

Clinton can laugh about it now — and he does, which is extremely weird to behold. And he insists, as he did to the BBC's Jonathan Dimbleby during his spout-blowing interview, that none of the scandal-related turmoil had any impact on his presidential duties, including his recent, hindsighted campaign against Al Qaeda. And if you believe that, I think I can find a sofa to sell you.

Clinton credits his ability to live "parallel lives" with his success in eliminating Osama bin Laden — sorry, I mean his success, period. And then he adds this: "Frankly — perhaps I shouldn't acknowledge this — but it was a relief to have to have to go to work and concentrate on something else. Otherwise, I would have nothing to think about all day long but what a bad fella I'd been." Shucks, maybe it was a good thing Osama bin Laden and the attack on the USS Cole came along to help the poor guy through some tough times.

Such as that "worst day." Most people would find a measure of relief in coming clean. But "clean" complicated things for Bill Clinton. Besides the betrayal of his wife and daughter, there were all those cabinet secretaries, for instance, who publicly lied at Clinton's behest. Remember that 1998 day when a slew of cabinet officers, led by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, stood in the rain outside the White House to vouch for Bill Clinton's honesty? In lieu of the honorable exit (resignation), Siberia-on-the-sofa becomes an increasingly apt metaphor for the Clinton years.

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But there's more to the Clinton legacy than a couch. Toughing it out for all the wrong reasons — because, as Clinton now explains his gross behavior, "he could" — is the Clinton endowment to American politics. The distinction between "could" and "should" has been obscured, if not almost lost.

The political unraveling of Jack Ryan, a once-promising GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate from Illinois, offers an example of this dubious legacy. When Ryan's child custody court records — which contain his former wife's ultra-sordid allegations that Ryan tried to compel her to participate at "explicit sex clubs" in New Orleans, New York and Paris — were unsealed this week, the candidate found himself trying to throw a political blanket over unsavory, now-exposed appetites he had hoped would remain hidden.

Should they have remained private? Yes, but so should have Ryan. And would have, I think, had he described to his GOP boosters the exact nature of the skeletons that his ex-wife, fairly or not, had hung in his closet. Ryan says he didn't break the law, his marriage vows or the Ten Commandments. This appears to be true, but his private life as a husband has nonetheless sorely undermined his public character as a potential Republican senator.

He disagrees. "I think if that's the worst people can say about me ... I think it speaks very well about my character," he says. I'm not sure Ryan should be touting "character" now that his GOP boosters in Illinois — which include former governors and state officials — have been stung. It may not be the Clinton cabinet in the rain exactly, but it's little wonder some of his supporters are feeling all wet.

Bill Clinton — publicly disgraced by the tatty climax to a seemingly endless string of notorious "bimbo eruptions" and assorted abuses of power and position — taught us that if you could stay in the ring, you should. Ryan, tarred by his ex-wife's charges, has learned not to consider whether he should stay in the ring (or whether he should have ventured forth in the first place), only whether he'll be able to remain. Voters deserve better, or should. If only they could find it in themselves to demand it.

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JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2004, Diana West