The Breakfast Table

Lies At Home And Abroad

Good morning Ruth-and what a morning it is! Bombshells on the front page of the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The Times story, jointly reported by James Bennett, Richard Berke, Neil Lewis, and David Sanger, suggests that the Clinton people are considering bringing “yes, but I didn’t inhale” out of mothballs for one last performance. Senior Clinton advisers, the story goes, are considering confessing some sort of sexual contact between the President and Monica Lewinsky. But no, they are considering continuing, this does not mean that the President perjured himself in the Paula Jones case, because his activities with Monica did not fall within the definition of “sex” given by the plaintiff attorneys in that case.

Amazing. Have we ever before seen a President deliberate in public over what degree of lie will best serve his political purposes? This public modulation of a lie–this lofting of trial balloons about how sharply the truth may be bent–it outdoes Lyndon Johnson at his most deceptive. At least Johnson never thought to invite the public into the war room with him to help fabricate the lie by which it would be deceived. Johnson’s lies, it’s true, inflicted much greater loss and sadness on the country’s than Clinton’s. For a certain type of Clinton defender, that may count as some sort of excuse. But while Johnson’s lies had worse consequences, Clinton is much the worst man. There was in the end something big about Johnson, that even those of us who disagree with almost everything he did must acknowledge. Clinton is all littleness.

Nor should we be too quick to agree that Clinton’s lies have no consequences at all. Turn now to the front page of the Post. There we read that for the past year, and especially in the past month, Madeleine Albright–who you fretted yesterday was a fearsome war-monger–has been ordering the UN arms inspectors in Iraq to go slow and turn blind eyes in order to avoid confrontations with Saddam Hussein. I tried to reassure you yesterday about Mrs. Albright’s harmlessness, but this is toothlessness to an oysteresque degree. The story I think tells us two things: one, how dishonest the Clinton foreign policy has been-its threats always bluff–and second, how paralyzed it has in fact been by the commander-in-chief’s disgrace. Despite Wag the Dog, a President is ill-advised to march the country into war to evade domestic troubles. The United States can only wage war as a united country, under a leader in whom it has confidence. A leader as blatantly untrustworthy as Mr. Clinton cannot fight–not even when he ought to. That’s another reason why, to revive an old slogan, “It’s Time for Him to Go.”