The Book Club

Perjury Ain’t Potatoes Either

Dear Brent,

What is this thing you call “lust”? Word has not yet reached my village. Is it a disease?

From yours of this morning I infer the answer to a question I asked you in mine of Monday–about which Times editorials you’ve written on the Lewinsky affair. I’m betting now that every one of those editorials has been somebody else’s work. Not for our paper of record, God bless its pointy little head, to suggest that “Hey, people screw around” is an adequate response to the president’s behavior in 1998. If it’s true, as you seem convinced, that only snake-handling, fire-and-brimstone men have grave concerns about that behavior, then I have a word of warning for you. Pat Robertson has taken control of your office. Watch your back.

People do screw around. Duh. I do not believe they screw around so often or so desperately as you insist. Half of all married Americans do not love their husbands or wives and thus have no choice but to get a little on the side? You made that up. No fair citing Cosmo or the Playboy Advisor in response.

Nor do I believe that American sexual attitudes have grown so blasé and latitudinarian as you imply. Bill and Monica were having “healthy, loving sex”? Who thinks that? And where is “the church” that has “tacitly” abandoned its strictures against adultery?

Henry Ward Beecher might help you out here, were he alive. (Mrs. Tilton and all that.) I am not familiar with the other congregations you cite. But I did see Bishop Jakes on Larry King last month. He “certainly would not” allow a pastor guilty of adultery to continue in the ministry, Jakes said, and “I’m not suggesting that we need to do that about the president.”

On this score, as it happens, I place myself a bit to the good bishop’s left. The quality of the president’s soul is of no concern to me whatsoever. Were the Clinton scandal genuinely “just about sex,” I would not be advocating impeachment. And Bill Bennett would not have written his book. And you and I would not be hissing at one another. But, c’mon Brent, it is not just about sex.

Lookit. A federal judge named Susan Webber Wright decides that Paula Jones has plausibly alleged an actionable tort by Bill Clinton. Wright takes the case. She authorizes discovery proceedings that involve pattern-of-behavior evidence involving “other women”– to wit, Monica Lewinsky. During those discovery proceedings, the president of the United States lies repeatedly, while under oath, in Wright’s presence.

Next, the president spends most of eight months, in order to forestall proof of his perjuries, dishonestly manipulating: a) innumerable federal employees; b) the White House, Treasury, and Justice departments as institutions; c) the District, Circuit, and Supreme courts; and d) public opinion nationwide.

Then, finally, the president commits additional perjuries before a criminal grand jury. You argue I am some kind of nut for obsessing over “the lie, the lie, the lie, the lie.” Yeah, well, what about the lie? Pigs ain’t potatoes? What the hell does that mean, exactly?

As with church, so with the watering hole. I am inclined to defer to you on what “the guys at the bar” are thinking. The way I read the polls, most Americans judge presidential perjury worthy of impeachment. Most Americans believe Clinton is guilty of perjury. And most Americans don’t (yet) want Clinton impeached. Maybe you’re right about the logic of this crazy syllogism. Maybe people fear that if Al Gore becomes president – if Clinton is removed from office for mocking the law and thus defiling his office–then no one will ever get laid again. But that’s … that’s …

Stupid. There, I said it.

Incidentally, Bennett doesn’t say that Kennedy was “more moral” than Clinton. He says Kennedy was less reckless.