A letter for my son for a coming of age

August 20, 1998|By Rich Hood

Dear Son:

I've thought about the questions you asked me Monday night when you called after watching President Clinton's Monica Lewinsky speech.

You said you were ashamed to be an American if leaders can get away with doing what Mr. Clinton did, and you asked why you shouldn't be ashamed.

First, because you have no reason for shame. The one who has publicly shamed himself and the country he leads is Bill Clinton. The country knew he played fast and loose with the truth when he was elected in 1992. Voters had even better reason to know that when they gave him another term in 1996.

If polls can be believed -- and this president certainly never makes a move until he consults a pollster -- then Americans have the president we deserve. Many Americans have tuned out the BTC Washington scandals because thus far they don't see how the scandals affect them.

The economy keeps humming, although the stock market has been soft lately. Americans have money to spend, and there is no immediate threat to our security from a foreign power. Clinton gets credit for this generally good state of events just as other presidents got credit or blame for economic conditions during their tenure.

I can tell you that your mother and I are offended by what the president has done with a White House intern and how he intentionally misled his family, his friends, his aides and the American public about his inappropriate relationship with a woman young enough to be his daughter.

There was a time in this country when such a gross abuse of power would have surely resulted in severe consequences. There was a time when presidents were not considered above the law. You could ask relatives of the late Richard Nixon.

There was a time when the American public had a right to expect the man in the Oval Office to respect the office and the people who placed him there in a position of trust. There was a time when Americans had the right to expect that their president would not have a reputation for being incapable of telling the truth.

Mr. Clinton has many political skills, without a doubt. He empathizes or purports to do so with what appears to be an unerring sixth sense. He can be eloquent in expressing the deepest yearning of a constituency. But, as this sordid episode has demonstrated all too well, he can't be trusted.

He has lied repeatedly -- to his family, to his friends, aides and confidantes and the American public. He has reshaped himself scores of times to gain sympathy or support.

In a society that has become increasingly coarse and vulgar, Bill Clinton is the leader who represents the cheapening of the presidency and American society. By indulging in his base behavior outside of marriage and then lying about it repeatedly to those who entrusted him with the office of leader of the Free World, he has abused his office.

We don't know if he committed deliberate acts to obstruct justice to prevent getting caught, but based on his record of untruthfulness, there is no reassurance that his latest account of things is remotely close to true.

If the president did obstruct justice, he should be impeached. Even if he did obstruct justice, I'm not sure Congress has the will to remove him from office. Not all lawmakers are as reckless in their personal behavior as Mr. Clinton, but many of them have cut too many ethical corners to be sitting in judgment of a man the American public tells pollsters they admire no matter what he does.

Far too many Americans have defended this flawed creature so long they don't know how to abandon that position. Far too many scoff at anyone who objects to Clinton's profligacies, his excesses, his hypocrisies. Far too many are blaming special prosecutor Ken Starr for this debacle.

Mr. Starr has gone over the line on more than one occasion. His zeal has sometimes exceeded his good sense, but he is the legal representative empowered to investigate presidential misbehavior.

No, I don't think you need to be ashamed to be an American. At worst, we will have to tolerate this embarrassment no longer than January 2001. Americans should be looking then for a candidate to make them forget the stain of the Mr. Clinton years. If not, then you will have the right to be ashamed.

Rich Hood is the editorial-page editor for The Kansas City Star.

Pub Date: 8/20/98

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