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Jewish World Review September 28, 1998 /8 Tishrei, 5759

Clarence Page

Clarence Page 'Whole truth?' Not in Washington

WASHINGTON President Clinton is taking a lot of heat from Congressional Republicans over his refusal to tell all about his sexual exploits with Monica Lewinsky. But lying and half-truths in the political world neither started nor ended with Bill Clinton.

If Clinton's accusers, as well as his detractors, wonder why more Americans have not shown more outrage over Clinton's freewheeling relationship with the truth, they might first take a look in a mirror at their own truth detectors.

Consider these recent events:

Republican leaders say they want Clinton to go, everybody knows they really want him to stay.

Meanwhile, Democratic leaders say they want him to stay, but they really want him to go.

As former presidential candidate Bob Dole used to say, you know it, I know it, everybody knows it. The Republicans say they want Clinton to go. But, if he did, they wouldn't have Bill Clinton to kick around anymore.

Which is precisely why the Democrats say they want him to stay, but wish they could wake up tomorrow morning and find he was miraculously gone, before he causes any more damage to Democratic prospects in the November congressional races.

But the fibbing and, shall we say, nuanced truth doesn't end there. Battlefield conversions are happening in the sexual harassment landscape, too.

The National Organization for Women said Clarence Thomas' allegedly vulgar talk around Anita Hill more than a decade earlier was serious enough to block his appointment to the Supreme Court. Conservatives at the time argued that the allegations were no big deal, that sexual harassment law was designed to prevent far more serious offenses.

The new line offered by conservative talking heads is that Clinton's consensual sex with a mutually consenting adult may be a criminal violation of "hostile workplace" provisions of sexual harassment law.

Feminists might be delighted at how quickly Republican consciences have been raised recently, were it more than a battlefield conversion in the war to bring down Clinton. Instead, NOW President Patricia Ireland sounds like a Thomas-era conservative. She has argued that Clinton's behavior was morally deplorable but not a big deal under the law, compared to the more serious offenses sexual harassment law was designed to prevent. But, if sexual harassment doesn't look so bad to feminists anymore, porn doesn't look so bad to conservatives, as long as Congress is publishing it. Had the Supreme Court not overturned a law supported by Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., to ban obscene and "indecent" materials from the Internet, the judiciary committee Hyde chairs could not have legally put the Starr Report on it.

Now, thanks to Hyde's committee, computer-savvy kids can save their valuable reading time. Simple word searches can zap them immediately to words like "breast," "thong," "cigar" and so forth.

Similarly, Republicans and Democrats have almost switched places in the debate over the independent counsel or, if you prefer, "special prosecutor" law. It looked bad to Republicans when it was used to pursue the Iran-contra scandal during President Reagan's administration. Now Republicans accuse Democrats, who created the law, of whining, now that it is targeting a Democratic White House.

You get the idea. Just as one person's "biased media" is another person's "responsible journalism," one person's "pursuit of the truth" is another person's "spin."

True, Clinton is accused of perjury and suborning perjury, but perjury is a difficult crime to prove, legal experts say. One big reason is that so many ordinary people commit perjury-lite in so many complicated domestic situations, like the one Clinton became embroiled in with the Paula Jones sexual harassment case. People swear in court to tell the truth in divorce cases, child-custody battles, contract disputes or traffic cases, then they lie.

As much as we, the voters, say we want our political leaders to tell the truth, we show a remarkable tolerance for a close substitute when it is coming from a politician we sense is on our side, "doing," as Clinton says like a mantra, "the job the American people sent me here to do."

Much has been said lately with great piety about what kind of lessons Clinton's Monicagate scandal is gong to teach our children about honor, fidelity and morality. That's a good question. If kids pay too much attention to Washington these days, they might stumble into quite a bit we have tried to hide from them.

They might even discover the truth about how the world really works.


9/14/98: Coffee? Tea? or Peanut-free?
9/09/98: When love life is affair game
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.