A Report and A Suggestion
by Beth K. Lamont
At our round-table discussion of August 22, 1998 on "Sex, Lies, and Leadership", the participants' opinions cover the full range of attitudes and possible responses to the shameful situation of our President's behavior, as well as to the mission of the Independent Counsel.
Two of our twenty-five participants insist that the President should be impeached; the rest of us, on the other hand, insist that so extreme a measure is out of proportion.
Only our youngest participant believes that Clinton's retaliation bombing of suspected terrorists is on target; all the rest of us are appalled at such lawlessness, and so obvious a wag-the-dog diversionary tactic. This is more grievous by far than any sexual scandal. As we discussed the bombing, most of us expressed shock at the hostile and unprovoked attack, which such an immoral, illegal, and violent intrusion into two sovereign nations constituted. If there really had been information linking Sudan and Afghanistan to the U.S. embassy bombings, it certainly should have been handled in a manner more respectful of our own laws by consulting Congress and of international laws by going to the United Nations Security Council. We are divided, though, on how to protect from terrorists.
We all agree on another matter, however. And it is unanimous. It is that, although the President's personal behavior and his lies regarding his behavior are surely despicable, we certainly had no wish to know as much about his sex life as we know now. We're sick of hearing about it, and sick of being embarrassed! What must the rest of the world think of him. Or what must they think of us for being so obsessed?
A point that we don't hear mentioned, but that we all agree upon, is the age-old custom of sexual discretion. A gentleman doesn't tell! Neither does a lady, for that matter. Why on earth would one in their right mind willingly compound shameful behavior by publicizing it? It seems much more normal and human to honorably keep the secret and hope that one's inquisitors would stop hounding. The saddest part of trying to maintain such a deception is that, alas, the liar's loyal defenders are thereby betrayed. They, the innocents, are caught in the tangled web of deceit, and they themselves are suspected of lying. How humiliating it must be for those so betrayed for their loyalty.
We agree also that Lewinsky, rather than being a young innocent as some have portrayed her, was instead, not only an eager, responding partner, but perhaps, even the initiator of the contact. This adds the question: who was the exploiter? In any event, his reckless and shocking behavior has left him vulnerable to exploitation by the media, and consequently vulnerable to his enemies who are intent upon impeaching him. This borders on insanity!
We express concern that Clinton will be rendered powerless. We fear that the Democrats who need to be re-elected will abandon him in their attempt to distance themselves. All of the work that still needs to be done before the end of this Congressional session will fail. It's a pity because he has been as good a president as we could hope to have. The Liberals and Socialists in our group would love more progressive legislation, military cuts, and support for the U.N., etc., but compared with other recent Presidents, he has, with our group, a high approval rating. He is a strong and charismatic world leader. Our economy is thriving like never before, and the national budget is out of the red for the first time in years. What irony that he should be at risk! All of this attention should be focused on something more productive. Let's get back to work!
Some of us remind that fifty or even thirty years ago presidents were not exposed to such media exploitation. The Office of the President was more respected and the media exercised more discretion. Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy had relationships that were not exposed to the public at the time. Now all media has stooped to supermarket tabloid lows. Another phenomenon that was not operant in those days is the new sensitivity to sexual harassment in the workplace, and awareness of exploitation of women by men in power.
We agree also that Ken Starr should back off and stop wasting millions on his rabid and fanatical pursuit, because we feel that the pursuit of the Whitewater investigation was politically motivated from the very start. It was clearly a mandate to "get something on Clinton." Obtaining testimony from secret tapes about sexual activity is sleazy; it would not be permissible in a court of law.
We considered writing an open letter to express some of our thinking. Should we address it to Clinton, asking him to apologize, or to do something to make amends? Should we address it to Starr asking him to limit the scope of his inquiry to non-sexual matters? Here's another irony. Hardly anyone challenges Clinton's right to do murderous violence in a foreign country to innocent human beings who had every right to pursue normal lives. The U.S. is the most powerful nation. We can mete out our own brand of justice? This is accepted norm. Where on earth was the public outcry then? Where, oh where, was the critical media attention then? Our culture is so permeated with violence that Clinton can blow up innocent living people, and it doesn't even faze us! But just let us get a blow by blow description of Clinton's illicit personal activity, and the whole world goes crazy!
Maybe the open letter that I, personally, would write to Clinton would say something like...
Dear President Clinton:
Recklessly shooting off your rockets was a mark of irresponsibility! And of immaturity!
Personal stature and wise leadership require that you exercise restraint, and always stop to consider the long-term consequences of your actions.
Now everyone is sore at you for one thing or another: for messing around with Monica; or for bombing Afghans and Sudanese; and for telling lies about both!
You can do better than this. We need for you to make wiser decisions.
Please apologize for the errors in judgment and start over. Please spend the rest of your public life devoted to making amends. Politically, you have nothing to lose. Take the most courageous stands. Make the most creative decisions. Promote the programs and policies which will most benefit the American family. And with bold leadership, move to ease the insecurity and turmoil around the globe which affects us all.
Thank you for your stated resolve to make changes.
Good Luck! We are counting on you to make changes and to make things right.
Note: Since the time of our August 22nd meeting and the writing of this report, it has been rendered obsolete by recent (September 11, 1998) events, whereby Independent Counsel Starr's report has been published on the Internet. What a paradox! What happened to Congress' concern for content ratings to make the Internet safe for young browsers? And already the House of Representatives has made its first faulty and partisan move, with its decision to not allow President Clinton to have an advance copy of the damaging document.
Instead of contacting Starr, now that it's too late to appeal to him for moderation, the next best thing to do is to instruct Congress. It looks frighteningly like a lynch mob, although we're hearing words like fairness and deliberation. Besides doing the normal things we individuals do, like phoning and E-mailing our Congress persons to express our wishes, it seems that polling might be the fastest way give them an idea of the public sentiment. It could be like a vote of confidence or lack of same: Forgive or Impeach?
We have heard the opinions of leaders on talk shows and opinions of people in the street, but these have all been subject to editorial selection of one sort or another. What opinion takers have already begun serious polling? I mean, of the great masses? A newspaper? A television network? Whenever the result of a survey is published, I always feel a little exasperated; nobody has ever asked me! And I'm as opinionated as anybody else!
The Starr report circled the globe in a matter of minutes, and was being viewed by millions, so what better place would there be to get attention than a Web page that's related to or similar to the original site, but designed to receive input? What could be more effective than mounting an Internet response to the situation that's been electrified by the Internet?
Isn't it time that you called?
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Beth is presently an Executive Board member of and a Program Director for the Humanist Society of Metropolitan New York, the Corliss Lamont Chapter of the AHA, and is an initiator of the AHA's Humanist Advocate Program. She was Chair of AHA's Chapter Assembly and also served as the AHA's NGO Representative to the UN. She is a Humanist Chaplain and officiates wedding ceremonies in New York City. She has been involved with matters Humanistic for most of her years.
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