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A Promising Presidency Tarnished



Naveen Sunkavally

If sex in the Oval Office with a 21-year-old intern were the end of it, Bill Clinton would not be in the predicament he is in now. In the grand scene of American politics, presidential sex scandals are nothing new. Ever since the days of the founding fathers, we have had adulterers for presidents. First there was Thomas Jefferson, who apparently kept company to his slave, Sally Hemmings, for 38 years. Then, Andrew Jackson, James Garfield, Grover Cleveland, and Warren Harding engaged in affairs as well (although Jackson's affair was not much of an affair - he married Rachel Jackson before her divorce proceedings were complete). Later, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and two of America's most morally respected presidents, Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, were also believed to have had affairs.

That's nine out of forty-one, or almost 25 percent of our past presidents, who have led affairs. Our forty-second performer, Clinton, has carried the torch on well in what may be almost termed an American tradition. Even before his election in 1992, Clinton's dalliance prompted The Nation to write, "Clinton is in front of the pack and perhaps unstoppable except by an obstacle of his own erection." Since then, not once but twice has Clinton admitted to extramarital involvement.

In a way, Americans, it seemed, elected Clinton president for his sexual drive. Clinton's idol was Kennedy, and Clinton's baby boomer upbringing and youthful vitality offered a pleasant change from the conservative George Bush and an economy in recession. He must have charmed Americans in 1992 when he said, "Bush is always comparing me to Elvis in sort of unflattering ways. I don't think Bush would have liked Elvis that much, and that's just another thing that's wrong with him."

But sex is not the end of it. Bill Clinton, plain and simple, is also a liar, and that's the sad part, the part that will tarnish Clinton like no other president involved in a sex scandal before him. With his hand on his first gear, Clinton has dragged the American people around for seven months like Achilles did Hector on his personal joy ride. He put his advisors and wife out on a limb, and, after they had crowed praise for him for a while, Clinton sawed off the limb. And if that wasn't enough, Clinton's four-and-a-half minute supposed apology on August 17, which came only when forced by all the elements surrounding him, was pathetic. The classic "I smoked but didn't inhale" statement appeared in rejuvenated form; in his speech he never really confessed to lying but only to giving a "false impression" and "misleading" everyone, and then he went on a two-and-a-half minute assault on the independent counsel.

More significantly, Clinton also, in the strictest sense of the word, is a criminal. While Starr's report is not in yet, one has to doubt how Clinton can continue to maintain that his testimony in the Paula Jones deposition that he didn't have sexual relations with Lewinsky is anything close to "legally accurate." Clinton's defense is that he answered truthfully under the court definition of "sexual relations," which stipulated that any sort of sexual contact with the groin, anus, and other areas constitutes sexual relations. That definition is rather broad. Who does Clinton think he's fooling? Are we to believe that while Lewinsky was doing whatever she was to Clinton that Clinton did not in any way reciprocate or return the favor, so to speak? Clinton speaks adamantly about his privacy, but he has made his private matters public, and there is no way to determine if Clinton is telling the truth unless he divulges the seamiest of details.

Clinton's proven perjury would set a dangerous legal precedent in our country. Why should anyone in a court of law tell the truth if the chief law enforcement officer of the country himself gets away with lying? How can any judge convict anyone in this country if Clinton were let loose? Never mind whether Kenneth Starr is on a witch-hunt or whether Clinton is the subject of what Hillary Clinton terms a "vast, right-wing conspiracy" - the fact would still remain that Clinton lied in court.

It's a sad way to end such a promising presidency. Following his first year in office, Clinton boasted, "When historians look at this first year, they will be hard pressed to find many first years of presidencies equal to ours." Clinton continually speaks of the twenty-first century, but in all this judicial mess he has set back the power of the executive branch several years, if not decades. Currently, Clinton's advisors are encouraging him to re-apologize, but it remains to be seen how much damage Clinton can repair. Always a stickler for games of semantics, Clinton's denials are vehement, and his admissions flakier than Frosted Flakes.

A noble and self-effacing president would resign under Clinton's circumstances. Personally, I would be pleased to see his resignation. I would not, however, like to see him impeached over a tawdry "sexcapade," as Maureen Dowd of the New York Times called it.

But Clinton is neither noble nor self-effacing. He has lost much respect from both Americans and a foreign community that includes a Saddam Hussein with a knack for the waltz. The next two years of his presidency run straight uphill. A leader who can't be trusted is no leader at all.

Twenty years from now, barring any extraordinary turn of events during Clinton's presidency, Clinton's name will have met the same fate as another before him. As Richard Nixon's name will always be tied to the word "Watergate," Bill Clinton's will always be strapped to the word "liar."