The Breakfast Table

My Fellow North Americans

Dear Ruth:

Well, it’s not “Today’s Papers,” but sure, I’ll play your parlor game. I’m tempted to say that Clinton should have said, “I quit,” or “You’ll never take me alive, Ken Starr!” or even “I realize now that Monica is the only woman I have ever loved.” But I’ll take the question seriously, and try a speech that I think would have had the best chance of saving him from his troubles. In my view, the formula should have been groveling plus a demagogic appeal to shut down the Independent Counsel investigation so that Americans don’t have to hear the word “fellatio” on the evening news any more. In other words, something like this:

“Good evening.

“I am a man to whom words usually come easily. But not tonight. Tonight I must talk about aspects of my life that no American president has ever before been obliged to talk about. And I have nobody to blame for my situation but myself.

“Seven months ago, I denied under oath having had a sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky. As most of you already know, that denial was untrue. I made the denial because I wanted to spare my family and myself from humiliation–and because I wanted to spare the country night after night of gutter-talk on national television, when we ought to be talking about [insert results of latest polls here]. But as we teach our children, a lie will always come out.

“So now I say: I am sorry. I am apologizing to everyone I have disappointed: to my wife, my family, my staff, and, yes, to Monica too. Hillary and I will be leaving for two weeks of vacation. We have a lot to talk about and I hope the press will respect our privacy.

“Above all I am apologizing to you, the American people. You have put your faith in me. I have tried to deserve that faith. I’ve balanced the budget, cut taxes on working families, etc. I am not a perfect man. But I have tried to be a good president.

“And now I must ask a painful question: can you forgive me? Can you accept a flawed man as your president? If not, I need to know now. But if you can, I want you to tell me–and tell your congressperson too. Six years ago, you did me the honor of putting America’s fate in my hands. Tonight, I am putting mine in yours.

“If you can forgive me, I think it’s time we put this matter behind us, and stopped treating a single lapse in judgment [note to David Kendall: does Starr have enough on the obstruction counts that this should read “a few lapses in judgment”?] like a constitutional crisis. I will speak no more about it, answer no more questions, comply with no subpoenas. The matter will be closed, done with. It will be time to stop peeking in bedroom windows, and to go back to America’s business.

“Good night: and may God have mercy on us all.”

What do you think?

Yours insincerely,