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Jewish World Review September 9, 1998 /18 Elul, 5758

Clarence Page

Clarence Page When love life is affair game

WASHINGTON Rep. Dan Burton, one of President Clinton's most relentless and combative critics, has done something President Clinton probably wishes he had done months ago. Burton has confessed publicly to marital infidelity.

And that's not all. The Indiana Republican also acknowledged that he had fathered a child who was born out of wedlock.

He announced what
he needed to announce. When the hounds are on your trail, the first unwritten rule of damage control is to announce all of your bad news, or at least the worst of it, all at once. With luck, the story will burn itself out in a day's worth of bad-news headlines and die after that for lack of fuel.

Burton apparently has done that, which raises another pressing question: Did we need to know all this?

Unlike Clinton's episodes with Lewinsky, Burton's extramarital affair took place more than a decade ago, before Burton was elected to Congress. The woman didn't work for him, the congressman paid child support and the woman was not married.

"With my wife's knowledge," Burton said, "I have fulfilled my responsibilities as the father." He only made the matter public, he says, after consulting with the woman and her current husband.

Unlike Clinton, Burton's sex life was not under investigation by a special prosecutor. It was under investigation by the media.

In a written statement released to the Indianapolis Star and News last Friday, Burton said he was making the disclosure to end what he termed harassment of the child's mother and others by news organizations who virtually had camped out on her front lawn.

Earlier in the week Burton accused the White House of instigating a Vanity Fair magazine inquiry into the affair. Both the administration and the magazine denied that. But, in a preemptive move, Burton announced that he and his wife of 38 years had been separated several times and at one point almost divorced.

Clinton, by contrast, broke the damage-control rule when he not only failed to acknowledge his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky when it was disclosed to the public last January, but also lied or, as he put it, "misled" to cover it up.

As a result, the old Watergate adage appeared once again to be true, that it is not the initial infraction but the attempts to cover it up that bring down the mighty. Clinton's private affair has cost him so much credibility that the effectiveness of his presidency appears to be all but finished.

Not that Burton is any Prince Charming, either. Quite the contrary, he is one of the heavy-handed, politically tone-deaf enemies with whom Clinton has been blessed. Burton's smug arrogance at the gavel as chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee has helped make Clinton look good. So has his calling the president a "scumbag." Not nice.

But, in Burton's defense, his attacks and his committee's investigations have focused on improper campaign fund raising, not Monica. It is fair game for the Justice Department to probe allegations that Burton pressured a lobbyist for Pakistan for campaign donations. His private sex life is less relevant to his public job.

But his private sex life does have some public relevance, thanks to some of Burton's political friends. It was not Clinton who put "family values" on the table as a national political issue in the 1980s. It was conservative Republicans.

Nor is it Democrats who are holding up the ambassadorial appointment of James Hormel because he is a homosexual. It is Senate Republicans.

The media also have helped. Some of the lesser cable news operations, in particular, seem obsessed with offering all-Monica all the time.

But it was politicians who put private sexual matters into public politics and governance has suffered as a result. Who knows how many promising men and women have steered clear of public life simply to avoid unreasonable intrusions into their private lives and those of their families. We have priced the offices higher than the market of able and qualified people can afford.

I have long held that American politics would be better off with a moratorium on the personal sex lives of politicians. But that's not likely. As long as a sizable chunk of the public wants to know, there will be somebody around to tell them, and somebody else to make an issue of it.

It will be up to the news-consuming public to call a halt to it before the beast of sexual snooping turns around to bite some of their own favorites. After all, Clinton's chickens may have come home to roost, but he's not the only rooster in the barnyard.


9/02/98: Whose history?
8/31/98: Taking the prize for selfishness
8/24/98: Wag the Dog novelist: Clinton could have looked 'presidential,' but muffed it up!
8/19/98: Resign, Mr. President ... and do it quickly!
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.