Clinton needs to clear up the rumors

ROGER SIMON '

January 26, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

I don't understand why candidates simply don't tell us the truth when it comes to their past mistakes.

Confession is not only good for the soul, it isn't that bad for politics either.

Yet Bill Clinton, leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, is now charging around the country putting out fires, dampening rumors and stomping on allegations that he once had extramarital affairs.

He talks about how solid his marriage is today. He admits, however, he once had "problems." Then he tells the press it ought to concentrate on the present and not the past. Because that is all we "need" to know.

But why doesn't he just say this:

"Did I have affairs in the past? Yes. But that period of my life is over. My wife and I now have a solid, wonderful marriage and that is what important to us and, I believe, to the American people."

And that way nobody would care what woman sold her steamy story to what supermarket tabloid. That way it would all be stale news, already admitted, already dealt with.

It is, of course, possible that Bill Clinton never had any affairs. But he won't come out and say that either.

Rumors of Clinton's infidelity are nothing new to the people of Arkansas, where he is governor. And when Clinton decided to run for president last year, he knew those rumors were sure to surface again.

So he did the smart thing. He and his wife went in front of a group of reporters last September and made it known he wanted to talk about the issue. So about 20 minutes into the questions, a reporter asked him about all those rumors.

Clinton laughed and said: "I thought you would never ask."

Then he said, "All those rumors about me during my race for governor . . . those were false, and I said so at the time."

So he never had any affairs, right?

Well, not necessarily.

Because Clinton then said: "What you need to know about Hilary and me is that we've been together nearly 20 years. It has not been perfect or free from problems, but we're committed to our marriage and its obligations -- to our child and to each other. We love each other very much."

So does that mean he did have affairs? Is that what the "problems" were?

We don't know. And, though I can't think why, he doesn't want to tell us.

I realize some people think the private lives of candidates should be off limits to the press and public. That "personality" journalism has taken over the news business at the expense of "real" or "issue" reporting.

But I think the private lives of public people can be important. I think the character, morals, ethics and honesty of a potential president are important.

When Richard Nixon was elected president, "personality" journalism did not exist. So all we got to learn was where Nixon stood on the issues and how he had performed his past jobs.

We did not get a look at the character of the man. And what did we end up with? A president whose lack of character disgraced a nation.

There is one other problem with concentrating solely on "real" issues. You have to keep in mind that the issues the presidential candidates discuss in the campaign are almost never the ones they face as president.

In his campaign, George Bush never took a stand on the issue of defending Kuwait or invading Iraq.

Ronald Reagan never dealt with the issue of making deals with Iran or diverting funds to the contras in Nicaragua.

Jimmy Carter never mentioned what he would do or not do if the Ayatollah Khomeini grabbed American hostages.

Crises cannot be predicted. And so we must pick men or women for president who will do the right thing about the issues nobody can anticipate.

And their personality, their character, can be the key to how they will act in such instances.

So why not know everything we can about a presidential candidate? Why shouldn't we know about the character of people who choose to run for the highest office in the land?

And, no, I am not saying that in order to become president you have to have led a blameless life since age 12.

I just think that in order to become president, you ought to be willing to talk about the good and the bad, your triumphs and failures, your successes and mistakes.

I think if you choose to run for president you should be willing to come clean.

Clinton can't undo his past. But he can talk frankly about it and put it in context. And I think he should.

Last week, when asked directly by reporters if he had ever had affairs, Clinton said: "I wouldn't tell you if I did."

I think he should.

I, personally, do not believe Clinton's past sexual escapades, if any, disqualify him from becoming president.

Maybe you do.

Either way, we have a right to know the whole truth about Bill Clinton.

And not just what he decides we need to know.

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