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Candor, Clinton-Style

(Reprinted from SOBRAN’S, August 1998, page 1)

He never lets you down, does he? Facing the music like a man, Bill Clinton said on August 17 that he was “completely responsible” for a “relationship” with Monica Lewinsky that was, he admits, “not appropriate.” And what did he testify in January? When asked under oath whether he’d had “sexual relations” with Miss Lewinsky, he said: “No.”

Having thus cleared the air, Clinton blamed Kenneth Starr for the vexatious seven months we’ve just endured. It’s all Starr’s fault. He’s guilty of “prying into private lives” in the Oval Office. And, Clinton says, “I intend to reclaim my family life for my family.”

Get a load of that. By asking Clinton about that “relationship” with a young White House employee on the Oval Office couch, Starr was ripping the veil from the intimate recesses of Clinton’s “family life.” And Clinton, on behalf of Hillary and Chelsea, resents it. He misled people in large part because he was “protecting my family.”

Husband, father, gallant protector of womenfolk! His statement was peppered with the words “love,” “family,” and “God.”

Was he using these terms in a legal or ambiguous sense? Who knows? Coming from Clinton, even common language turns out to be full of unsuspected homonyms.

Before the speech, everyone agreed on one thing. This time Clinton couldn’t afford to play word games with the public. Which is exactly what he did. As usual. As always. This is a lawyer’s idea of “coming clean” — a committee-crafted confession. Pure, distilled Clinton.

He “confessed” less than we already knew and no more than the FBI lab is about to confirm. Yet he wants credit for candor. As his lawyer David Kendall said, he testified to the grand jury “truthfully” and “voluntarily.” Well, sort of. Truthfully when trapped, and voluntarily when under duress.

It wasn’t a confession; it was a concession — a tactical retreat in his war on Starr. He was counting on the public to read contrition into his nebulous formulations. But he admitted only what had become undeniable, then immediately tried to turn it to his advantage by using the buzzwords that work in the polls — “the pursuit of personal destruction,” “prying into private lives,” “nobody’s business but ours.” (This from the man who illegally gathered the raw FBI files of suspected opponents!)

Clinton says he “misled” us in January in order to mislead us in another way in August. Among those he “misled,” he says, was his wife. Why should he stress this point? Well, Hillary reportedly opposed any admission of his adultery because she has been flatly denying it too. By saying she was “misled,” the president gave her deniability: she can now pretend she wasn’t lying along with him.

When the Lewinsky story broke, everyone seemed to agree that if Clinton had committed adultery with a White House intern he would have to resign, just as a general who had had sex with a private in his Pentagon office would be finished. Since then, though, Clinton has waged a seven-month war of attrition on our standards of public conduct. His strategy comes down to this: he wants his character to be defined as his “private life.” That way he can mount a weird reverse character defense in which he hides his crimes behind his shabby little sins.

Joseph Sobran

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