Sex, Lies and the Spin
by Clifford F. Thies
Leading up to his grand jury appearance, and now following it, President Clinton*s apologists have been spinning. By *spinning* I mean saying something that is true (usually something trite), and then jumping to a false conclusion. There is no way I can comment on all the spin, but I can address some of it.
1. It is a private matter.
It is true that a person*s sex life is or should be a private matter, meaning not a legal matter; but, our judgment of the trustworthiness of others is also a private matter. When we put people into positions of trust, we want to satisfy ourselves that they are trustworthy.
I am not saying we should judge others harshly. Obviously, there are degrees of impropriety. For example, there is a difference between (1) a married person having a one-time sexual relationship with another some time in the past, and (2) a married person who has a series of affairs.
2. If Hillary accepts Bill*s sexual behavior, we should..
Under some circumstances, we can indeed second-guess a person*s acceptance of their spouse*s sexual behavior. Again, we should be careful. Persons married to adulterers are victims, and deserve our sympathy. At some point, however, you have to stop being an enabler. I would say you have definitely reached the point where you should stop being an enabler when your spouse assaults you or your children, spends the family*s money on prostitutes, gambling, drugs and alcohol, or does not work and forces you to both raise and financially-support the children.
Hillary has not reached this point. Therefore, we should defer to her decision about what to do with Bill, whether to again accept him back, or to divorce him. Having said this, her decision on this matter has nothing to do with our judgment of his suitability to hold a position of trust.
3. It was not sexual harassment.
There are elements of sexual harassment insofar as Clinton was involved with a subordinate and, following the exchange of sexual favors, the subordinate was favorably considered in certain employment decisions. But, there is a crucial element missing: the subordinate did not file a complaint.
The potential problem is *abuse of office,* not *sexual harassment.* Employment decisions involving a conflict of interest require, at a minimum, disclosure. Of course, people who have illicit relationships do not typically disclose their conflict of interest. Thus, while sexual harassment was not involved in this case, there is the question of abuse of office.
4. Clinton did not perjure himself when he lied in the Paula Jones deposition.
There are several variations to this assertion, one of them being that the judge who said President Clinton had to answer the question regarding having had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky was incorrect in deciding whether the question was material to the case. But, when a judge says you have to answer, you have to answer even if you think the judge is incorrect, or else you are in contempt of court. This is true for the President just as it is true for everybody else.
Another variation is that Bill Clinton denied having *sexual relations* meaning a particular sex act, but did have other sex acts and did not *volunteer* this additional information. First, I understand that Clinton was given a written list of sex acts that included everything from getting to second base to getting to home plate. Second, he swore to tell *the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.* His leaving out something in order to mislead people is not telling the whole truth.
5. His lying was o.k. because he lied to protect his family.
There are times when it is perfectly licit to lie, mislead or withhold information. For example, when the woodsman told the Wicked Witch it was Snow White*s heart in the box, when in fact it was a wild boar*s heart, he lied, and did good in lying. He lied to protect the innocent from the evil of another.
In Clinton*s *confession* he said he lied to protect himself *and his family,* and sought thereby to confuse his *confession* of wrongdoing with a claim of good-doing. He was saying that Ken Starr is like a Wicked Witch from whom he was protecting his innocent family. The fact is that Clinton was not trying to protect his family from the evil of another, but from his own evil. I do not know anybody who says that it is o.k. to lie in order to protect others from your own evil.
6. Perjury in a sex case is not an impeachable offense.
I actually agree that if the President had made a full confession of his illicit affair and his perjury in the Paula Jones case, he should not be impeached. Two things: First, because he tried to weasel out of making a confession, he needs an appropriate punishment. This could be a joint resolution by Congress censuring the President for his illicit affair, his perjury in the Paula Jones case, his misleading of the public, and his attack on the special counsel. I must admit we have no direct precedent about disciplining a President short of impeaching him. Second, we do not yet know the strength of the evidence regarding abuse of office, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice, and we not know if the President has committed yet additional perjury, things which everyone should agree are impeachable.
7. Starr is relentless.
The independent counsel act sets up a prosecutor who single-mindedly pursues the target of his investigation. There is no balancing of the public*s interest in one case versus the public*s interest in other cases. Accordingly, millions of dollars can be spent, and have been spent again and again, pursuing possible wrong-doings that, when all is said and done, have turned out to be relatively unimportant. Republicans generally opposed the independent counsel act and its renewal; and, hopefully, will not renew it when it expires next year. But, it is the law, and it is Starr*s duty to follow-through.
8. Starr may have done some things wrong.
An investigation is underway concerning possible leaks from Starr*s office, and certainly if sufficient evidence is found there should be disciplinary action. However, it should be remembered that *leaks* happen all the time in Washington, D.C.
9. The investigation is a partisan witch-hunt.
In a parliamentary system, such as they have in England, a minister who is found monkeying-around would simply and quickly be forced to step down. It would all be over with in a couple days. What is more, it would not be a partisan issue. The party in-power disciplines its own misbehaving members, not the party out-of-power. However, that is not our system. The nature of our system is such that it is inevitable that the Congress is going to be suspicious of the Executive, and that investigating wrong-doing by the Executive is going-to-be partisan.
10. The media is out-of-control.
There is a reason why the media is out-of-control. It is called the 1st Amendment.
11. Everybody does it.
It is true that some past presidents have behaved as Bill Clinton has behaved (i.e., a pattern of affairs, sometimes accompanied by financial scandal or other abuses of office), e.g., Warren Harding. In general, they have been judged to be failures as president, as we must so judge Bill Clinton.
12. The President*s *job approval* ratings are still high.
The less he does-whether due to the capture of the Congress by the Republicans, or to the *diversion* caused by this investigation-the better is the economy, and the better are his *job approval* ratings. There may be a lesson in this somewhere.
In our system, the voters will ultimately decide the appropriate punishment for Bill Clinton and his apologists, this fall and in the year 2000. We believe in the democratic process. As Abraham Lincoln put it, *You can*t fool all of the people all of the time.* As libertarians and as Republicans, we are particularly sensitive of the need for honesty in our relations with others, for (non-coercive) moral leadership in a free society, and for the rule of law. We also adhere to the rights of the accused, and to the principle that the punishment must fit the crime. We are committed to be both just and merciful, justice being the purview of the state, and mercy being what we extend one-to-another as individuals.