How many lies does it take to tell truth about Clinton?

May 11, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- There is no part of Bill Clinton that has not already been on public display that I would like to see up close and personal.

In fact, having once been behind him as he was jogging, I can state that there are parts of Bill Clinton that have been on public display that I would like never to see again.

Once upon a time in America, a president's "distinguishing characteristics" were honesty, integrity and intelligence.

Now, these words are used in a lawsuit brought against Clinton by Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee.

She claims that while Clinton was governor of Arkansas he "lowered his trousers" in front of her and exposed himself sufficiently so that "there were distinguishing characteristics in Clinton's genital area that were obvious to Jones."

It would have been unthinkable in an earlier era of American life to write about the body of a president in such a manner.

But on Monday the front page headline in the New York Post read: "Bill May Have To Bare It All."

And on the venerable and very serious "Face the Nation" Sunday, retired federal judge and Supreme Court wannabe Robert Bork said that "it could well happen" that President Clinton will have to submit photographs of his genitals to a court.

Some I have spoken to consider this allegation by Paula Jones to be of critical importance.

If Jones can identify the "distinguishing characteristics" on Bill Clinton, they reason, that would prove Jones has seen what she claims was thrust in front of her against her will.

But I don't agree.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people might have seen Bill Clinton's "distinguishing characteristics" over the years.

The president has showered in the locker rooms of schools, health clubs and country clubs. And if his high school was like my high school, the boys' swimming classes were conducted in the nude.

So any number of people could have passed on directly or indirectly to Paula Jones what distinguishing characteristics Clinton may have.

In other words, Paula Jones could testify that Clinton has "This Space For Rent" tattooed under his navel, and it would not prove a thing.

Which is also why Clinton should not have to submit any proof, photographic or otherwise, about his body.

If all this strikes you as highly undignified, you are correct.

But except for certain ceremonial things like the playing of "Hail to the Chief" and everybody rising when the president enters a room, there is not a whole lot of special dignity still attached to the presidency.

Part of the reason has to do with the media: Intense scrutiny and dignity seem unable to coexist in our times.

But partly it is the fault of presidential campaigning. For a long time presidents have sold themselves to us as human beings, as personalities we can like and identify with.

Politicians stress how they are not unreachable people on high ++ pedestals, but regular folks just like you and me: Bill Clinton goes on MTV and reveals he prefers briefs to boxer shorts. George Bush professes a love for pork rinds, horseshoes and cowboy boots.

So if presidents sell themselves to us as being regular, down-home and non-special, it is natural that we should treat them that way.

Which is one reason why one of Clinton's possible defenses to the Paula Jones suit is a bad one: Clinton's attorney may claim presidential immunity and say a president cannot be sued while in office.

But this, I believe, may damage Clinton more than it could help him.

Clinton should fight this suit on the grounds he has stated -- that it is a false accusation -- and not on the grounds that he is above the law because he is president.

There is no doubt that elected officials today are targets and that some people do lie about them for profit or attention.

Gennifer Flowers lied about him, Clinton says. A draft official in Hot Springs, Ark., also lied about him, Clinton says. As well as five state troopers. And a former judge now under indictment in Little Rock. And Paula Jones.

All of which is quite possible.

But I am also reminded of what one Democratic operative said about Clinton back in February 1992:

"I am amazed that Governor Clinton's life seems to have intersected with so many pathological liars."

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