President Clinton’s recent “confession” was more like a soft-pedalling of his involvement with Monica Lewinsky. Like abortion, it was an experience he would probably want to be either unnecessary or extremely rare.
And the rhetoric he employed to soften his illicit relationship with Miss Lewinsky bears a striking resemblance to the standard pro-abortion rhetoric that he and other like-minded supporters of abortion have frequently articulated.
In fact, Mr. Clinton has trotted out six rather battered clichés that are not only unworthy of a president, but unworthy of any clear-thinking and responsible citizen. Each of these stock responses represents both an absence of critical thinking and a disturbingly undemocratic tendency to try to manipulate the public.
It’s a private matter. It is hardly defensible to argue that a protracted sexual relationship between the president of the United States, a married man, and a young intern, which transpired in the Oval Office of the White House, is a private matter. Sex with his wife would be private; but not with a member of his staff. The world-shaking consequences it has produced make this point more incontestable than any argument ever could.
Lighting a fire in your own fireplace may be a private matter, lighting a fire without authority in a dry forest is not. Any act must be seen in context.
It was an “inappropriate” relationship. It is “inappropriate” to wear sneakers to a wedding, or even to wear “white” after Labour Day. The word “inappropriate” belongs to the world of etiquette. We may feel foolish about doing things that are “inappropriate,” but we should not feel guilt, remorse, or isgrace.
For some time now, “inappropriate” has replaced “immoral;” but to violate the moral order is far more serious than breaking rules of etiquette. What Clinton did was immoral. Does anyone really think that the Clinton-Lewinsky affair is nothing more than a breach of etiquette? Do we subpoena people to appear before a grand jury for wearing a checkered tie with a striped shirt?
It was a mistake. According to some reports, Clinton and Lewinsky met in private 50 times. How often can a person make a “mistake” before it becomes a pattern? “Mistake” belongs to the wrong category entirely.
“Lifestyle” would be more to the point. People are inclined to forgive mistakes. But a chronic repetition of the same mistake on a moral level is a bad habit—perhaps even an addiction—that is not so easily overlooked. Moreover, it may indicate the presence of a character fault. A president is expected to lead, not mis-lead.
We need to put this behind us. The past bears upon the future. “What is Past is Prologue” adorns the facade of the United States Treasury Building.
It is not so easy to end a bad habit. Mere words and promises may not be enough. Reform, though eminently desirable, often requires help from others. What is desirable is not always manageable.
What help is Clinton soliciting that will put more credibility into his words? Can he relegate to the past his apparently rather powerful tendencies toward sexual transgressions?
Nobody’s perfect. Lying to the public and to chief White House aides, together with his complicity in a long string of sexual indiscretions, is far more than a departure from perfection. It fully justifies calling into question whether President Clinton is morally competent to continue occupying a position that is referred to as the most important and powerful in the world.
My accusers were politically motivated. Being “politically motivated” is not necessarily a bad thing. It is not immoral or even a breach of etiquette. Clinton himself, as a politician, should be politically motivated.
But if the expression “politically motivated” has come to arouse suspicion, it is precisely because of the antics of politicians like Clinton. The fact that this defence itself is politically motivated is only too transparent.
The parallels between the aforementioned clichés and standard pro-abortion rhetoric should be evident. The informed pro-life person knows only too well how eager abortion supporters have been to define abortion as a private matter, to obscure its moral implications, to deny responsibility for its consequences, to promulgate the myth that women who undergo abortion will not carry its scars into the future, to dismiss pro-life values as idealistic, and to vilify pro-life advocates as members of the “religious right.”
Clinton, the most “pro-choice” president American voters have ever elected, is currently frying in the juices of his own pro-abortion rhetoric. The important difference, this time, is that the public, not just pro-lifers, see through it.
One hopes that it will finally dawn on them that his pro-abortion rhetoric is the same shallow and misleading smokescreen he is now using in his maladroit attempt to keep his job.
By Donald DeMarco
(Dr. Donald DeMarco is a professor of philosophy at St. Jerome’s College in Waterloo, Ont.)