The president leaves a stain on his presidency, his marriage and, literally, on Monica Lewinsky.
Can it really be that President Clinton will have to step down from the White House because he had–omigod–extramarital oral sex with an adult human female not his wife? Not rape, not sexual harassment, not child molestation or sleeping with his best friend’s wife, nothing painful or kinky or involving drugs or costumes? This in a country where half the kids over 15 have as many piercings and tattoos as lifers in the gulag and the front cover of this month’s Reader’s Digest, on view in every grocery store, trumpets an article within as “Surprising Health Benefits of Sex!”
I watch the talking-head shows, I listen to the radio and thumb through the endless gray wastes of moaning and harrumphing that fill the daily papers, and I am just astonished. American journalists, who know all there is to know about the routine licentiousness of politicians and are no angels themselves either, I might add, seem unable to wrap their heads around the banal Monica Lewinsky scandal and put it in its place. Clinton-haters like George Will and Maureen Dowd I can understand, but Bob Herbert?
Well, I feel sorry for President Clinton. True, he’s a creep and a schmucko, to use Ms. Lewinsky’s pet names for him, also a dissembler: I always believed Gennifer Flowers and, most of the time, Paula Jones. Worse, he’s a hypocrite, who, as Barbara Ehrenreich points out, has pandered to the right on family values, castigating teens for having sex and women for bearing “illegitimate” children; he signed a welfare bill that, among other cruelties, cuts food stamps while providing millions for classes in abstinence. It’s hard to sympathize with a man who’s now lying in the strait and narrow bed he helped make for so many others.
Nonetheless, I do sympathize with him. President Clinton executed the brain-damaged Rickey Ray Rector and pushed through a draconian crime bill; he bombed Baghdad and may well do so again. But this love affair is nobody’s business but his, his wife’s and Ms. Lewiusky’s. None of them are complaining, so why should CNN? I don’t even care that he may have fibbed in his deposition to Jones’s lawyers, or asked Lewinsky to back him up, because they had no right to ask about consensual sex in the first place. Or do we now believe that infidelity is ipso facto suggestive of sexual harassment? It seems to me that the risks of having a philanderer in the White House-whom people have already knowingly elected twice-are far less than the risks of permitting special prosecutors and others to play Savonarola. How would you like to be deposed about your sexual partners and practices? If I thought I’d get away with it, I’d lie too.