People speak up about latest scandal

January 27, 1998|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN STAFF

To: President Clinton

From: We, the people

Re: The State of the Union

Dear Mr. President:

Tonight you will speak to us about the state of the union. Here is our state of the union: We're disgusted, depressed and devastated.

Disgusted by a scandal that has reached such depths that the words "president" and "semen" are being uttered in the same sentence -- and out loud for all the world to hear. Depressed that your first denial of the charges was squishy, meaning your subsequent ones now founder out there, neither reassuring nor definitive.

But mostly, we're devastated at how this mess has become a runaway train, speeding crazily out of control. Stop it, please. Spare us from having to rely on leaks and rumors and third-hand reports. Whether it's tonight or at a later point, give us some straight talk. Trust us to make up our own minds without lawyers or spin.

Listen to what some of us, from a range of backgrounds, want to tell you.

Sister Kathleen Feeley, former president of the College of Notre Dame and professor at University of Maryland Baltimore County:

"[Big sigh.] That is my reaction. I am disheartened at the thought that our nation's leader would have such dalliances in the White House -- if this is true -- and would be so devious in his response to them.

"I am kind of ashamed of our country. I have an awful feeling about it. We are being degraded in the eyes of the world. When Yasser Arafat was here and [the president] was sitting next to him and answering questions about this, I was embarrassed. And it's not just to the rest of the world, it's also the image of our country to ourselves.

"It's just depressing. I don't want to believe it's true, but I do find his answers devious. He's not answering directly. I was so concerned, all the [news] anchors were in Cuba for the Pope's visit and the next day they were pulled back to New York -- the relevance of those two stories doesn't seem to be in any sort of equality to each other.

"I don't know what he should do. I don't know where he is in all this. My hope would be he could speak to the nation about what is important to us."

Lucius Wright, a former Baltimorean who was recognized for his work with inner-city youth in Jackson, Miss., and invited to be President Clinton's guest at the 1996 State of the Union address:

"I just think the State of the Union should deal with the state of the union. I hope he deals with the big issues on Tuesday and then, on Wednesday, deal with Monica Lewinsky. Apples and oranges. There's a right to know, but there's a time and place. His constituents have questions, and some answers have to be provided. Of course, for his non-supporters, no answer is ever enough.

"I'm a convert. Some of us Vietnam veterans had a problem with him, but an individual must answer to his own conscience. That's what I went to war for, you're allowed free speech, you're allowed to dissent to government policy and still years later become president. That gives me goose bumps, that's what America is about.

"I'm much more in the president's corner than I was six, seven years ago. My yardstick is, am I better off now than I was before? I definitely have to answer, yes."

Larry Sabato, University of Virginia political scientist and author of several books on politics and the media.

"I come from a university that has a very simple honor code that's strictly enforced: Thou shalt not lie, cheat or steal. And therefore, the president's best option, politically and otherwise, is to tell the whole truth. It's just as simple as that.

"If it's a sexual relationship, as disgusting as it is, given his current popularity and the good state of the economy and peace abroad, I think it's likely he would survive. He would be damaged, but the American people would probably be willing to give him a pass on that. Whether the independent counsel would is another case entirely. But then of course he'd have to get a jury and/or a judge to agree that lying about a sexual relationship under oath was enough to essentially throw out a president. Or the House of Representatives would have to do that in the Judiciary Committee, but I seriously doubt they would do that.

"His best option is to tell the whole truth. It's certainly an option he's rarely considered in his political career and even more rarely done, but it might actually help him."

David Blumberg, chairman of the Republican Party in Baltimore:

If I were Bill Clinton, if he is a partisan Democrat, which I'm assuming he is, I would resign. The reason to do that is it wouldn't drag the country through something that, while maybe it's not an impeachable offense, is something that calls to question his judgment. What was he thinking?

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