Tuesday, January 24, 2006


September 11, 1998

Okay, the Starr report is finally out. You can read it here (http://www.cnn.com/starr.report/).

Please keep in mind that I’m not a lawyer, and this is a short article so I’m not going to go into all of this in complete detail. This is just my opinion. Also, I’m a Democrat, so of course there is a danger that partisan bias may be influencing my opinion. Just do me the favor of thinking over what I have to say before you assume that. Thanks!

President Clinton’s defense team’s rebuttal has two sides: an emotional one and a legal one.

The emotional side of the President’s defense consists of the charges that 1) this is all a big right-wing conspiracy, and 2) the Republicans are just trying to embarrass the President.

Is it a conspiracy? The Starr investigation certainly went on way too long, moving on to investigate rumors about the President’s personal life after it failed to turn up anything incriminating about Whitewater. I find it pretty easy to imagine rooms full of conservatives jumping up and down with glee because they finally "got" that damn liberal Bill Clinton. In fact, I’ve actually met some of these people. But while I’m deeply disgusted with their attitude, I don’t know of anything their attitude has prompted them to do that’s particularly illegal. So… conspiracy? Not in the legal sense, but this is not a legal defense. It’s an emotional one. And emotionally, I can understand how the President feels.

Are the Republicans trying to embarrass him? Of course they are. I’m imagining those rooms full of celebrating conservatives again. But frankly, President Clinton deserves to be embarassed. While knowingly under the scrutiny of an investigative team motivated by right-wing fundamentalist conservatives, he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. And then he lied about it. Starr and his backers may be creeps, but they haven’t embarassed the President. He embarassed himself. I can’t really sympathize with him on this one.

It strikes me as particularly ironic that President Clinton is now making a big show of religiosity as part of his effort to appear contrite. Yet the Christian religion he’s now snuggling up to is the source of the moral rules he ran afoul of in the first place. People in Europe, much less in the grip of religious conservatism than we are, can’t figure out why Americans think this is such a big scandal.

Here’s my opinion about that. I’m not a big fan of Christianity, but I *do* take commitments very seriously. As a married man, I feel that promises I made to my wife are promises I’m obliged to honor. Anybody who expects to have my respect needs to live up to their comittments, too.

However, it’s also true that my wife and I don’t feel bound by the marital traditions of Christianity. I won’t tell you how or even if we’ve violated those traditions, because that’s none of your damn business. My point is this: I don’t care if Bill Clinton has sex out of wedlock, as long as in the process he isn’t breaking any solemn promises he’s made to anyone. I have no idea what sort of arrangement he has with his wife. As far as we know, she may have no problem with him engaging in extramarital sex. But whatever their arrangement is, it’s nobody’s business but their own. The public assumption that they must’ve bought into the standard Christian monogamous arrangement is just another example of how firmly Christianity has America in its death grip.

Now let’s consider President Clinton’s legal defense. It also has two main points.

Firstly, Ken Starr only has Monica’s word for it that the President lied. If Bill Clinton’s description of his encounters with Ms. Lewinsky are accurate, and hers aren’t, then his attempt to exploit a loophole in the Paula Jones trial’s definition of "sex" was legal, in spite of it being evasive. His lawyers charge that it’s pretty irresponsible to impeach a president on the basis on one person’s opposing testimony. This is a good point, but ultimately not very compelling. We may not have anything to corroborate Lewinsky’s side of the story, but we also don’t have any evidence that she tried to weasel out of the truth.

The second legal objection is much more persuasive. The President’s lawyers point out that impeachment proceedings are intended to address serious abuses of power - subversion of the Constitution, and injury to the society itself. Aledged perjury for the sake of hiding an embarassing sexual liason just doesn’t qualify.

That, I think, is what this all really comes down to. And on that basis, I’m persuaded that this impeachment business is a load of nonsense. Unfortunately, we’re now fated to several more months of public speculation about this, thanks to Congress spewing Ken Starr’s report all over the Internet. What ever happened to the solemn dignity with which justice used to be dispensed? Must every major trial now be turned into an episode of Jerry Springer?

I also find it ironic that Congress, which so recently made a big show of "cleaning up" the Internet of all sexually explicit material, has now put itself into the business of posting a summary of Monica Lewinsky’s sexually explicit testimony on the internet without the slightest effort to prevent minors from viewing it. I suppose by some subjective standard this material is considered "educational" rather than "pornographic". Still, I can’t help but wonder how many teenaged net surfers are going to be making printouts of the "good parts" of Ken Starr’s report tonite.


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