When former Clinton special prosecutor Kenneth Starr resurfaced in a sanctimonious interview on PBS’s new Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered last Friday, it seemed like a nightmarish time warp. This right-wing legal zealot, who twisted the law into a political vendetta, quoted from the scriptures at least three times during the eight-minute interview. When asked what Clinton had done wrong, Starr fumbled lamely, and directed Carlson to “the referral.” The prosecutor who abused his legal discretion (according to many legal experts, including former Iran/contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh ) couldn’t admit that his exhaustive investigation came up with nothing, yet cost taxpayers over $70 million and consumed the time of twenty-eight attorneys and seventy-eight FBI agents over four years. (For more on Starr’s abuse of power, see the just-released documentary The Hunting of the President, based on Joe Conason and Gene Lyon’s bestselling book of the same name.)
(When asked why the once bitterly hostile inquisitor seemed so mellow these days, one of the show’s senior producers grinned and speculated that it was a side effect from Viagra.)
The political strategist Niccolo Machiavelli once observed that the proper place for saints was in the convent, not the councils of state. He also advised citizens and their representatives to take ruthless action against leaders who steal from the public purse or subvert constitutions. Wise advice as we reflect on how historically disproportionate was the punishment demanded of Clinton to the crime. The Nation still has its problems with the former President–but they have to do with his policies when it came to welfare “reform,” Rwanda and dealing with post-Communist Russia. Those were Clinton’s wrongdoing–not illicit sex and attempts to conceal it.
Yet, for a personal indiscretion, the former President was persecuted by an ethically challenged special prosecutor, at great cost to the nation’s business. Yet where is the special prosecutor to investigate President Bush who, according to many legal experts, has committed war crimes, manipulated intelligence to mislead us into a war that was unnecessary and illegal (and that has already cost thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and wounded and maimed tens of thousands), shredded fundamental constitutional safeguards, subverted international law and sanctioned torture?
On a lighter note, last summer I suggested that parents use President Bush’s (mis)behavior as a way to talk to their children about values like telling the truth, telling lies and the consequences:
posted 07/31/2003 @ 09:44am
Parenting in 2003
On the eve of the Clinton Impeachment hearings in 1998, The Sexuality Information and Education Council (SIECUS) sent out “Ten Tips for Talking about the Starr Report with Your Children.”
“The upcoming impeachment hearing,” SIECUS president Debra Haffner advised, “provides parents with a special opportunity to talk to their children about sexuality issues…. The question parents need to ask is ‘Who do I want to tell my children about this sad situation?’ Another child on the playground? An acquaintance on the school bus? They are unlikely to tell your children the facts in a clear way. And only YOU can give YOUR children YOUR values.”
It’s now 2003 and if the events of these last weeks don’t provide parents with that special opportunity to talk to their children about the president and values like truth, lies and consequences, then I don’t know what does.
So, with all due credit to SIECUS, here are Tips for Talking about President Bush with Your Children:
*1) Think about your values as they relate to this situation. What are your family’s values about telling the truth? What would you do if your child lied to you and when you scolded him or her, s/he replied: “I am not a fact-checker.” Or added, “Isn’t it time to move on?”
*2) Ask your children to tell you what words mean to them. Explain that words have consequences and lies can come in two, six or sixteen words.
*3) Clarify facts. Give short, age-appropriate answers. Explain that shifting strategies at damage control only lead to more unanswered questions. Make clear that even if facts are malleable for President Bush, they’re not malleable in your home. Explain that even though the White House strategy may be to say whatever is necessary, even if they have to admit later that what they said the first time wasn’t exactly true, you don’t do it that way yourself.
*4) Use these talks with your child to encourage good decision-making. Let them know that if they grow up to become president and lead a nation into war, the right thing to do is take responsibility for their words and acts. (This is a good opportunity to explain what the saying “the buck stops here” means.)
*5) Use television news as a springboard for discussion. However, do not let children younger than 13 watch this coverage alone. It can be ugly and disturbing for children to watch the President and his aides scapegoat their subordinates with so little compunction.
*6) Help your children understand the larger issues. Let them know that it’s not just about sixteen words. You could explain that there appears to be a pattern of dishonesty well beyond the uranium scandal that is extremely worrisome. Explain that the American people are entitled to the truth and they have a right to know if President Bush, Vice President Cheney or any White House officials misrepresented the facts to justify war.
*7) Keep the lines of communication open. Talk. Remember that this is not a one-time or a one-way discussion. Your children need your ongoing support in dealing with their President’s tenuous relationship to the truth. Unfortunately, this sad situation is currently a fixed element of the political landscape they are growing up in.
A version of this weblog was published on the op-ed page of [the July 30, 2003] Boston Globe.