Presidents, sex and lies have long association

January 27, 1998|By Raymond J. Lawrence

THE frenzy of moral indignation over President Clinton's sexual behavior is more a symptom of the public's hysteria, immaturity and misplaced values than it is of Mr. Clinton's questionable character.

And the frantic debate over whether Mr. Clinton told the truth to the media is ludicrous. This country has never had a president who invariably told the truth. Sometimes it is even in the national interest that presidents lie, as in matters of security. To elect a president who would never tell a lie would be a foolish choice, and the country would have a fool for a president.

A history of lies

Some previous presidents have lied in matters that have cost many human lives, which is regrettable. For example, Lyndon B. Johnson lied about the Tonkin Gulf affair; presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush lied about Iran-Contra.

We may strongly prefer that presidents tell the truth most of the time, or that when they lie, they do so for the common good. Unfortunately, presidents lie also to protect their political power and influence. That is not going to change.

The frenzy over Mr. Clinton's lies about his sexual peccadilloes is even more ludicrous. First, his sexual adventures have not hurt anyone as far as can be determined, Paula Jones to the contrary notwithstanding. Furthermore, what fool tells the press the truth about his private sexual life?

The moral indignation over Mr. Clinton's extramarital adventures are similarly symptomatic of the public's childish naivete. Do we really require leaders who refrain from any sexual activity except with their legal spouses? Where does this sexual puritanism come from? King David committed adultery and is still considered Israel's greatest king; King Solomon was promiscuous and is considered its wisest king. Good rulers and bad throughout history have used their power to add to their sexual pleasure.

The sexually promiscuous popes were not always the worst popes, and the sexually innocent ones were not always the best.

Our own country has had a number of political leaders, including presidents, who were sexually promiscuous. Should we disgrace them all? Should we take their portraits down?

The spirit of the times is akin to that of Prohibition, when many people considered anyone who imbibed alcohol to be guilty of moral turpitude. That was a childish and hysterical response to the social problems related to drunkenness. Such responses cause more harm than good.

What this and all future presidents should do is slam the door unequivocally on further public discussion of their sexual life.

The result would be a new and healthier political climate and an increased respect for the privacy that those in leadership deserve.

The Rev. Raymond J. Lawrence, an Episcopal priest, is director of pastoral care at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York.

Pub Date: 1/27/98

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