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Jewish World Review Jan. 22, 2001 / 27 Teves, 5761

Julia Gorin

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Consumer Reports

The one that got away --
A LONG, long time ago, in a land far, far away (1992 America), the press had a motto: The public has a right to know.

But then, with the dawn of Clintonian America, and all throughout the Paula Jones/Monica Lewinsky ordeal, our messengers in the media took on a new tone, and the people adopted it:

"Please! I don’t want to hear about it--he’s the president. Who am I to bother him? It’s his business. Don’t presidents always have things like this going on? I can’t hear you. La-la-la-la-la (eyes closed and fingers in ears)…"

On Friday the independent counsel struck a deal with the country’s most cunning contemporary criminal mastermind (a.k.a. outgoing president Bill Clinton). Why?

Because the public doesn’t want to know.

What if evidence had accumulated of, not lying about sex, but a different Clinton crime? What if one of the 50 bodies rumored to be lining a path of shallow graves from Arkansas to the White House indisputably pointed to the president? Or say he had his own Chappaquiddick episode (he’s tried hard to be a Kennedy in every other respect). An investigation ensues, and the media retaliates:

Pundit 1: "But is that an impeachable offense? I can see it being indictable, like after he leaves office, but is it impeachable?"

Pundit 2: "I didn’t vote for Bill Clinton to be my moral compass."

Pundit 3: "What’s it got to do with how he runs the country?"

Pundit 4: "What a man does in the privacy of his own home…"

Dissenter: "But—"

All: "Why are you so against him? Has he done something to you personally?"

Indeed, mention a more serious Clinton "indiscretion" like Chinagate, Whitewater, Travelgate, Vince Foster, or Juanita Broaddrick—and be met with: "They don’t have proof," or "Then that’s what they should get him on."

Al Capone was put away for tax evasion, yet few would dispute that the man was guilty of far graver crimes. With Sexgate, the country was given a similar window of opportunity—open wide by a liar’s propensity to lie even when it doesn’t serve him. We had a chance to plug what holes we could in our ship, and get a taste of a Gore presidency that might have won Bush the election by more than a few dimpled ballots. But image was more important than truth.

In paraphrasing Mr. Clinton’s statement Friday, CBS’s Dan Rather said the president admitted that he "made mistakes."

Making "mistakes" is part of a new language the country adopted in its role as enabler to our charming and beloved 42nd president. Hillary dipped into the new arsenal of buzz phrases we generously provided when she described her husband as having "a weakness." Then we attributed "human frailty" to the man, which made him a hit with other men who like to indulge the same "weakness" (but for them we reserve different phrases, like "sleaze," "lech," "dirty old man," etc…)

Rather also reiterated the president’s view that "this brings to a complete close his problems with the special counsel." Hasn’t that been his view from the start? From the beginning, the accused has given the country its cue as to when the ugly stuff was "all behind me now." He always let us know when it was "time to move on" and "get back to work for the American people." And we nodded.

Questioned on Lewinsky/Jones/Willey, he answered, "It’s time to move on." As the Balkans fell apart after the NATO invasion: "The war’s behind me now…" As Chinagate, the biggest presidential scandal in American history unfolded and folded in a day and a half: "Why dwell on the negative? I’m trying to move the country forward…"

And if tomorrow we find out that last month he was with an underage girl: "As you know, that was last month. It’s in the past now. Besides, today she’s 17. Tomorrow she’ll be 21. They grow up so fast these days."

On Friday, as every other day, the man emphasized that he has "paid a high price" for his actions. Again, let’s just take his word for it. Even though Nixon’s dead and we’re still making him pay; even though Ronald Reagan is ill, and we still defame his legacy.

But the president with the twinkle in his eye was always forgiven even before he transgressed. The dissenters and the whistle blowers were blamed—a favorite tactic of dictatorial regimes, by the way.

The announcement brought an apt closure: No more investigations, not even so much as a puny disbarment—just a fine and a five-year law license suspension for the charismatic Bill Clinton. And THE COUNTRY is "spared."

Perhaps most telling in Friday’s press conference was a Freudian slip by White House press secretary Jake Siewert, when he said that there is optimism again in America, that America has come back "under [Clinton’s] regime."

Americans repeat history not because they don’t study it, but because they ignore it: The public didn’t want to know, and so Joseph Stalin lasted for a quarter century.

And we, to borrow the old tyrant’s phrase, have faithfully served as Bill Clinton’s "useful idiots."

JWR contributor Julia Gorin is a journalist and stand-up comic residing in Manhattan. Send your comments by clicking here.


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09/06/00: A cornerstone of 20th Century America: Sticking it to the rich
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06/16/00: It's the sex, stupid
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03/17/00: Patronizing the patron
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12/21/00: The Sport of Sitting
11/19/99: He wants his brother back!
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10/29/99: Bomb all bans
10/04/99: Welcome, Mr. Buchanan!
09/24/99: The Financing of Hill's House
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10/19/98: Got milk? Don’t know. Do I?
07/30/98: Kofi Annan's crimes against sensibility
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01/08/98: In defense of the appetizing shiksa

© 2000, Julia Gorin