Waiting for the facts?
THE UNFOLDING BILL CLINTON DRAMA may become the O.J. trial of our political life. It will not divide the country along racial lines, but it may deepen and exacerbate the cultural chasm that already exists between cultural liberals and conservatives.
For that segment of the voters who have told pollsters that they were reserving judgment until all the facts were in, there is news: You have all of the exculpatory facts you are likely to get from this president. Three weeks ago, he promised a full accounting of his actions, "sooner rather than later, more rather than less." But that was before his poll numbers began to rise. That promise is now as dead as Bill Clinton's middle-class tax cut, as inoperative as his claim that he never sold the Lincoln bedroom, as reliable as his memory about whether he was drafted.
The president's claim that he is silent because he is complying with the rules of the grand jury proceedings is just another lie. There is no rule that requires him to stay mum. White House spinner Paul Begala tries another tack. He protests that the president cannot speak because Ken Starr stands ready to charge him with perjury. But the president would have nothing to fear if he planned to tell the truth.
Nothing to fear from Starr, that is. He would, of course, have a great deal to fear from the voters if he spoke the truth.
President Clinton has demonstrated throughout his life that he has no conscience. Most of us cannot lie even when we know it would benefit us. President Clinton often cannot tell the truth even when it would not hurt him. This is a man who lied about whether he had visited McDonalds during his time in the White House.
He is corrupt, and he has corrupted those around him. From the state troopers in Arkansas who were pressed into service to procure women, to campaign workers like Betsey Wright, who helped spin lies about those who told the truth about Clinton, to the FBI functionaries who turned over confidential files on 900 Republicans, to Cabinet secretaries like Bill Richardson who found themselves in the humiliating position of offering government jobs to his cast-off girl friends, most of the Clinton loyalists have had to relinquish a love of truth in service to their leader. (That is why the news that Betty Currie told the truth instead of backing up her boss' account of meetings with Monica Lewinsky is so surprising and refreshing. Here, at last, in Clintonland is a tree that has managed to grow straight and has not been twisted.)
Having promised the voters a full accounting on questions he acknowledged were legitimate, the president is now playing for time and playing the voters for fools. He is hoping that disgust with the press, manufactured hostility toward Kenneth Starr and scandal fatigue will combine to postpone indefinitely the day when he will have to explain the unexplainable. Only if his poll numbers start to decline will President Clinton alter his strategy.
Of course, there is a surprisingly large segment of the population, at least 25 percent, who are not waiting for all of the facts. They know the president is lying, and they don't care. They think the president deserves credit for the strong economy (they are misguided), and they think personal morality is of no consequence. This is the segment of society that truly has become, in Gertrude Himmelfarb's formulation, "demoralized."
What those libertines cannot see is that the economy pretty much runs itself and will continue to do so. But nothing is more important than personal morality. The problems that currently plague this nation arise primarily from bad moral choices by adults: illegitimacy, divorce, child abuse and neglect, drug abuse, abortion. It has never been more important than it is today to have moral exemplars in public life.
If we cannot manage moral outrage at a president who abuses his office by using
21-year-old interns in a shameful fashion, who gropes female job seekers in the Oval
Office, who buys witnesses' silence with government sinecures and who lies brazenly
and repeatedly about all of it, then we may have the leadership we
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