Terrible message to kids'


In its second conversation, 'The People's Panel' worries about 'recklessness,' the president's 'dark side' and lessons about truth.

September 25, 1998

First the Starr report. Now President Clinton's taped grand jury testimony. "The People's Panel" met again to talk about the scandal that won't go away - the big ugly thing stuck to the nation's shoe. This time a new panelist, Nance Jacobs, joined us, and the chat took place over coffee and bagels - sorry, no spinach dip - in the kibitz room at Seymour Attman's Deli on East Lombard Street.


Moderator Dan Rodricks: My 8-year-old son brought home a joke from school: This guy dies and goes to heaven. He notices a lot of clocks. He asks St. Peter about it, and St. Peter says, "The clocks show us the time remaining on Earth for each person." The guy asks, "Why do the hands on some clocks move faster than others?" St. Peter says, "If you lie, the clocks speed up." "Where's the president's clock?" the guy asks. "Oh," says St. Peter, "we keep it in the back; we use it for a fan." The Bill-and-Monica story has trickled down to at least third grade. Jason, last week, you said the president should "continue to lead." Do you think he's done anything wrong?

Jason Wilson (musician and radio producer): I do think he's done something wrong, and what your son's telling you is sad. It proves this is how Clinton will be remembered - not for what he has done for the country, but for this.

Rodricks: Should we punish the president?

Wilson: I feel more strongly about it now than I did last week. I think, after seeing the president's testimony on TV, that he should stay in office. I think he has done something wrong, but I don't think it is the business of the country.

Rodricks: Lying under oath?

Wilson: He was under oath because of this affair, because of the Paula Jones case. I don't think this is something that should have been brought out to begin with.

Nance Jacobs (medical assistant and teacher): If [Clinton] had told the truth immediately, the whole thing would have stopped right there. If I were to go into a courtroom, I would totally honor what I raised my hand to because I'd be swearing by my life and my God that what I was saying was the truth.

Rodricks: Even if the question was about a relationship outside of your marriage?

Jacobs: Yes. Truth is easier to deal with in the long run than all the falsifications that build up around untruths.

Bob Knatz (Democratic precinct pol): I don't pretend to be a student of the Constitution. I am not a lawyer. I'm worse, I'm a real estate broker. (Laughs) I believe some of the responsibility should rest on Kenneth Starr and his extreme desire to get at this president, without even thinking of what it is doing to this country.

Rodricks: Should a prosecutor - someone supposedly independent, free to pursue suspected crimes - consider what impact it might have on the country?

Jacobs: His concern is to check out the law. To make sure what happened is illegal or not.

Knatz: Mr. Moderator, you called him the prosecutor. He is appointed as a special counsel. I believe that is an important distinction. He has come off as a messenger of the far right, as a prosecutor getting this president, whatever the cost.

Rodricks: About that grand jury testimony on video. The question - if Clinton lied under oath or not - turned on a definition of what "sexual relations" means, or meant. The legal definition.

Jacobs: For some reason, [Clinton] feels the rest of us are stupid.

Rodricks: You think it's pretty cut and dry? He had a sexual

relationship with Monica Lewinsky, what they did . . .

Jacobs: Everything that he did fit into that definition.

Rodricks: It was a restricted definition.

Jacobs: Well, it covers everything I know. (Laughs)

Rabbi Martin Siegel: Clinton is trying to lawyer us into thinking that he can get away with it. But just to save his own skin seems selfish. The sin that I see in him, that he needs to overcome, is self-centeredness and selfishness.

Jacobs: And arrogance.

Siegel: A kind of intellectual arrogance: "I can outthink you." And that would be a terrible message to send to your kids - to show that a person who is clever can get away with it. Now he has the chance to overcome that himself. You know, there is a whole industry that Clinton has created to defend himself. And if he was truly repentant, he would pull away from all of these guys and try just to come to a place like [Attman's] . . .

Rodricks: I'll invite him, Rabbi.

Siegel: He should come and talk to people like us, without all the spin doctors. There was some stuff in the tape that sounded real. Like when he said, "I care for Monica Lewinsky. That sometimes I felt bad, you know." So, there was a humanitarian element. There was compassion. And that was very attractive. I would like to see more of that, instead of this whole apparatus of people created by him to hide his dark side.

Jacobs: As a parent, if your son comes to you and starts spinning things, and he will, around 12, 13, or 14, what would you do?

Rodricks: I would go back to a basic: Be honest with me. You get in more trouble by lying.

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