Tragedy meets farce in appalling precedent Clinton: Confession to sins most people already believed changes few minds on issues.

August 19, 1998

THE UNITED STATES is demeaned before the world and its own eyes by the appearance of President Clinton on television to admit to what most people consider adultery and to declare, Nixon-style, that he is not a crook.

The fault is his own, for doing what he should never have done; Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's, for mounting a massive and inappropriate investigation into personal conduct violating every American's concept of the right of privacy; the press pack's and the nation's for their insatiable and gleeful prurience.

Bill Clinton is not the first president who dallied inappropriately behind closed doors, if historians and journalists are to be believed. He is the first who was forced to testify under oath about it.

He is not the first president to lie to the American people, only the first who was handed such squalid material to lie about.

And for the permanent weakening of the United States and its Constitution, he was the first to be spied upon by a massive FBI and Secret Service presence about such matters, setting a precedent for successors that predecessors could not have survived.

Although Mr. Clinton's address to the nation Monday evening was billed by the talking heads as a decisive moment, it decided nothing, changed few minds, brought no closure.

The majority of the American people approving of his performance had already accepted that he "did have a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not appropriate." They still think that his private life should not have been investigated BTC and that irrelevant testimony in a dismissed lawsuit provides no grounds to think about prosecution or impeachment.

But those who had been morally outraged by what they had previously understood of his behavior heard only confirming examples of his devious use of language.

Although Mr. Clinton was more combative against the inquest than his spin doctors had led the nation to anticipate, Kenneth Starr is not to be intimidated and will not back down.

Nothing has ended.

The independent counsel's investigation will continue on its course, wherever it was leading, with a time frame decided by its leader, and not for the convenience of Mr. Clinton, his Republican critics in Congress or an appalled population.

The office of the presidency and the strength of the Constitution have been weakened by the precedents that Mr. Starr won from the courts and the subject matter that was declared fit for public scrutiny. That cannot be undone.

The infraction of moral code at the root of it, while offensive to many Americans, is not found in law or Constitution.

It does not disqualify Mr. Clinton from office. That is what elections are for.

Twice, having heard salacious and damaging material, the U.S. electorate chose Mr. Clinton. That ought to be have been good enough for Mr. Starr and the Republicans in the House of Representatives, who can now try to overturn that mandate at their political peril.

This is a road the nation should not have gone down.

Don't mock Bill Clinton as a laughing stock. We all are.

Pub Date: 8/19/98

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