By Sam Low
The Lewinsky scandal seems to have energized my political outrage more than any recent event I can remember. It has caused me to confront a perplexing question. Just why don't I seem to be as concerned with the president's integrity as does the press or my (relatively few) Republican friends?
Well, it's partly because I like Bill Clinton and his policies. I think it may be the same with the vast majority of Americans, those who rate his performance high while, at the same time, giving him low marks for personal integrity. He is obviously smart. He speaks well. He stands up to adversity. His heart, as far as the important issues goes, is in the right place. He wants us to have good health programs, social security, education, protection from crime, a decent job. He does more than talk about these matters. I get the impression, from his public persona in such places as Martha's Vineyard, where I summer, that he is one of us.
His affair with Lewinsky was crude and stupid. No possible defense. I'll give you that. But impeachment? Please.
"But he lied about it?" chorus some of my friends. "And to a Grand Jury."
Perhaps like most people, my personal calculus of what to condemn or condone is based on what I would do in a given situation. Like Clinton, I would lie. And, although I do not like to say it, perhaps I can even see myself frolicking with an attractive woman half my age. I just hope that if such an opportunity were to present itself and I were to be president, that I would not to do my frolicking in the oval office. I imagine I might even choose a more suitable lover. Marilyn Monroe comes to mind.
Then there is the Grand Jury matter. It seems ironic to me that most Republicans do not seem to understand the quantity of hatred that Ken Starr has engendered in the public. In an era when Republicans bleat about Big Government interfering with Big Business, why do they not see that a more fundamental issue is Big Government interfering in the Private Lives of our citizens? Starr has spent, what, forty million dollars, tilling up dirt about one of us. I am pissed. I feel that the money has been worse than wasted. Given the results of his inquiry, launched to look into Whitewater (and returning no indictments against the president), I feel that the money has been stolen. From me. Personally. And it has been used to create political chaos, sully the honor of my country, bring to the forefront the worst in the media and politicians.
Impeachment? Please. I have read enough to know that it's possible for legal minds to twist the meaning of "high crimes and misdemeanors" so as to include adultery or lying under oath about it. But when measured against the systematic and life-long deceitfulness of Richard Nixon, what Clinton did seems manifestly inconsequential. He was protecting his private life. It was wrong, yes. But the greater wrong was committed by the whole careening process of an out-of-control independent council. You know what? I fear that if we let this particular invasion of privacy pass, the targets of inquiry may shift to people like us.
The media refers to Clinton as "old Mr. Slippery," as if that explains why the public is not sitting in on the feeding frenzy they are dishing up. If we do not seem to care about Lewinskygate, it must be because of some "spin" that the White House has put over on us. We have been duped again. What arrogance. You would think that good journalists would, when confronted by such a vast gulf separating the Nation's politicians and pundits from its public, go investigate why. Spend time with the people. Instead, most of the fourth estate seems content to just dish up the dirt. And that does little to change the degraded impression that I, and I suspect most Americans, have of the press. They are lazy. Bought off by their advertisers. Sensationalism sells. I'm not surprised that some polls show we rate the press today lower in our esteem than lawyers.
If this sorry episode ends with most of us angry at politicians, the press, and the independent council - which seems eminently possible - the reasons should be obvious. What is playing out in Washington is the result of allowing a self righteous prig to rummage around in the presidential laundry; of partisan politics, of media commodification.
It is also, of course, the result of a deep flaw in Bill Clinton's character. But, he's my friend. Him, I can forgive.