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Jewish World Review /August 19, 1998 / 27 Menachem-Av, 5758

Clarence Page

Clarence Page Resign, Mr. President ... and do it quickly!

WASHINGTON President Clinton's apology for his improper relations with Monica Lewinsky raises an old question.

It is a question I first heard expressed in Joe Klein's novel Primary Colors.

That's the novel Klein, writing as "Anonymous," claims is not about Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, even though, of course, it is.

The question, asked by a fictitious George Will of the scandal-plagued Clinton-like candidate, was, "Do you think it's possible the American people might conclude that you are more trouble than you're worth?"

A good question. Clinton troubled conventional American moral sensibilities long before he became president. But he was not more trouble than he was worth, judging by the voters who put him in office in 1992 and returned him to office in 1996.

But now I am beginning to have my doubts. With his artfully worded confession of having a "not appropriate" (read "sexual") relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, then having "misled" (read "lied to") the rest of us about it, he is becoming more trouble than he is worth.

If Clinton could see past his anger at special prosecutor Kenneth Starr and the legions of Clinton bashers who gnaw at him like fleas and his own crafty ability to finesse sticky situations, he would resign. For the good of his country, his party and his own place in history, he should call it quits. Pack it in. Say adios.

Of course, he won't. He's too angry and stubborn for that. I don't blame him. But that doesn't mean he shouldn't do it.

I don't say this because I oppose Clinton. Leave that to the Clinton bashers. I approve of most of what he has done in office. Six presidents, from Lyndon B. Johnson to George Bush tried to get the economy up and crime down to the levels we have achieved under Clinton's watch. The national morale hasn't been this good for a long time.

That helps explain why his job approval ratings have remained high while his personal approval ratings have remained low. In short, his public conduct has made it easier to overlook troubling questions raised by his personal conduct.

But with the Monica confession, denial crumbles to the ground. Reality has set in. He has become more trouble than he is worth, even to those of us who generally feel he is on our side.

For one thing, his credibility is shot. You don't stand up and lie with a straight, determined face on television, apologize only after you get snared by physical evidence and get away without doing violence to your own credibility. Who's going to believe anything he has to say now?

Second, resignation should appeal to Clinton because it would confound his enemies. Sure, the Clinton-haters have lined up to say Clinton should go, but they were saying that before he came. Nowadays, when they say they want him to go, they really, really want him to stay.

That's politics. If Clinton goes, the very capable Albert Gore Jr. becomes president and, as an incumbent, is that much harder for Republicans to unseat in 2000. If Clinton stays, the Clinton-bashers still have Clinton to kick around some more, energizing Republicans and demoralizing Democrats in this November's congressional elections.

Third, most Americans, according to polls and just about everyone I talk to, want this national embarrassment to go away. Compared to Richard Nixon and Watergate, Clinton and Monicagate are small potatoes. Yet, still, potatoes are potatoes. By his admitted conduct the president has disgraced himself, debased the dignity of his office and wounded his party's political future.

With two years left in office and his image in tatters, Clinton looks more like a lame duck. Legislation on Capitol Hill has stalled. Republicans have lost their fear of his might and his mandate. They don't want to get in Clinton's way while he's hanging himself, but they don't want to give him any more victories, either. Democrats, still miffed at Clinton's past efforts to distance himself from his party's liberal base, need him less than he needs them.

So, go ahead, Mr. President, delight your friends and frustrate your enemies. Quit.

If you stay, you may win this battle and keep your office. Starr appears to have little or no evidence that you asked anyone to lie or obstruct justice. Despite what the Clinton bashers claim, Monicagate appears more and more to be all about sex, after all, and that's not a crime.

But that's not a small thing, either. Don't resign one step ahead of the law. Bow out graciously simply because it would be the right thing to do, the right message to send to those of us who have grown too cynical about politics and government already.

If you quit now, you're ahead. You look noble. Your critics lose a cause. Your vice president looks more like the clean-up man who saved the day for a grateful nation.

Stick around and you might survive. You might even leave office as scheduled with your head held high in 2001.

But it might not be worth the trouble.


8/17/98: Doing kids' time for adult crimes
8/13/98: When blacks are taken for granted....they become Republicans
8/10/98: A place for 'pro-choice' and 'anti-abortion' to agree?
8/06/98: Finding those who fell off the welfare rolls
8/03/98: A list about lists
7/23/98: Teen pregnancy has declined --- but it's not enough
7/21/98: Calling Rev. Al's bluff
7/16/98: Child porn vs. Internet rights; drawing fine lines
7/13/98: Still partners after all these years
7/8/98: A future without 'unknown' soldiers
7/6/98: Suddenly Drudge doesn't look so bad
7/1/98: Get off your, uh, couch, America!
6/29/98: Have conservatives won the media game?

©1998, Tribune Media Services.