Having already mentioned this article in another thread, I thougt I’d post the piece now as it is relevant to your discussion. It is relevant, because no matter who we are or what positions we hold, we are still driven by our desires. Reason has yet to prevail. If Polly Toynbee, a columnist for The Guardian, the UK’s most feminist broadsheet, can see that, then why can’t we stop to think for a moment before jumping on our moral high-horses.
Or maybe I’ve got it wrong and her obvious distaste for republicans overcame her feminine sensibilities.
Anyway, this is her 1998 take on the Clinton-Lewinski saga.
Monica was not a crime
By Polly Toynbee
Saturday September 12, 1998
Step back for a moment from the drama of Clinton’s free-fall. Forget the legal questions about his perjury. Forget the politics, the frantic calculations by Democrats of how to save their bacon or the Republicans’ eye on the main chance. Try to obliterate his daily more repulsive apologies. Stop asking what foolish Clinton could have done months ago to stop all this. Consider instead how history will judge these events.
In 1998, a US president was destroyed by having an affair or serial affairs, crushed by adultery. Extraordinary! It was wise old Arthur Schlesinger, Kennedy aide, who commented wryly yesterday that if only Clinton could galvanise the adulterers’ vote, he’d be in clover. Adultery is duplicitous. It is betrayal and cheating. But it is also commonplace and widespread, always was, always will be. It is not a crime, but a private matter between those involved. It is private even when it happens on the Oval Office desk, with or without cigars, whether he inhaled or not. Whatever salacious delights are paraded before our fascinated gaze on the Internet, it is none of our business.
Because sex is private, we have no right to ask other people to tell us what they get up to. If we do ask, expect to be lied to. Ask any social researcher about the reliability of sexual data, and they laugh. No one is obliged to tell the truth about things that should not be asked. Not even presidents.
Clinton should, of course, have said that straight out to the American people the first time he was asked - “None of your business” - and all the polls show he would have won resounding support. For months the moralistic, religiose, born-again (but like their TV preachers also adulterous and divorced) US public said so themselves. But failing to assert his right to privacy, followed by cowardice and absurd verbal circumlocution, Clinton fumbled and fell.
We can blame him, over and over again. How could he risk all for sex? How unappealing to use his penis as his sceptre of office. But power is an aphrodisiac - would Lewinsky have looked twice at his Slick Willie had he been some lowly White House paper-pusher? It happens everywhere, from the office floor of the Bank of England to every kind of office hierarchy. Much sex is nastily tainted with power inequality, but we can hardly frame a law against that. As for the damning charge by Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman that Clinton has “embarrassed all Americans”, that’s not all Clinton’s fault. Most sex if exposed in public is absurdly embarrassing. Who would escape mockery? That’s why it’s private.
The man who “embarrassed all Americans” was Kenneth Starr, the tapeworm who has been eating his way through the entrails of this largely uncorrupt presidency for the last four years. Starr’s role in history will be reminiscent of Senator Joe McCarthy’s. Failing to find sufficient fodder in Whitewater or anywhere else, this Republican foe happened fortuitously upon sex. With the aid of Paula Jones, entirely financed and promoted by Clinton’s enemies, he finally found a vital organ to destroy. The office of presidential investigator has as much proper place in the body politic as a lethal parasite. Which of us could survive such probing without exposure of something or other?
It’s not the sex, it’s the lies, people are saying. Somewhat hypocritically they are seeking a more solid rationality for their gut distaste at these lurid revelations. But sex and lies are always intertwined. Some say all this unbridled, irresponsible lust proves Clinton unfit to rule the world. The trouble is, the way presidents arrive in the Oval Office through the gruelling election process almost guarantees they are only semi-sane. Hypocrisy, betraying principles and shallowness are designed into the job.
Some are using his sexual exploits to condemn him for the manifold - but quite irrelevant - political disappointments of his presidency. For signing the welfare bill, for a politically motivated bombing or failing to deliver on health, he has bitter critics on the left. But if disappointing the voters was an impreachable offence, few presidents would survive.
Of course he shouldn’t have lied on oath. But if he shouldn’t have been put on oath over such a matter, it mitigates the perjury. Is he an admirable character? No. Is he a criminal? Hardly. Should he have tried to get his lover and his secretary to prevent the exposure of his embarrassing private life? No, but it’s understandable in the face of gross invasion of his privacy. Those who believe there should be stronger privacy laws should consider whether the president had some right to try to protect his own. But the world being as it is, he may have to go because people do not like what they have seen, although they should never have seen it.