Faith & Reason: Memo to the President: put that bible away, Bill

Bill Clinton has to choose between being pious and presidential. It is his attempt to have it both ways that has got him into such a mess

ONE OF the dafter undergraduate observations of the Nixon era was the fact that Spiro Agnew (one-time Vice- President) was an anagram of "grow a penis". In those days, however, such inky-fingered ribaldry was for private consumption only. Now it has become the stuff of public discourse and the President of the United States, no less, has given us all a licence to discuss oral sex, DNA material, "inappropriate behaviour" etc, etc, with as much candour as we can muster. To such an extent that explaining the Clinton and Lewinsky affair to our suddenly attentive children after the early evening news has become a delicate balancing act.

Lubricious gossip aside there have been other surprising features about this whole saga. In particular the way that the President's religious seconds seem almost to have been rooting for him between rounds - from the Rev Jesse Jackson to the Thomas Merton lookalike (complete with scapular) looking beatifically on as Bill and Hillary left Washington's Foundry United Methodist Church before the public confessing began.

Pardon me, but given the conspicuous presidential church-going, bible- carrying, and trumpeting of wholesome family values shouldn't one of them have said something, er . . . prophetic? It was as if they were subscribing en masse to the late Malcolm Muggeridge's view of the Ten Commandments. The Sage of Robertsbridge, you may remember, had once opined that these were best likened to an examination paper prefaced with the rubric "Only eight to be attempted" (the presidential preference inclining presumably towards the omission of numbers 7 and 9).

Not that one would expect one's allies to be the first to put the boot in. Ministers, after all, are there to offer pastoral support in times of need. But why has it been left to politicians and secular commentators to lead the moral charge? Doesn't the church to which the leader of the free world so publicly belongs have something distinctive to say about this? Shouldn't it have something distinctive to say?

And then there was all that highly publicised praying shortly before the President gave his testimony. We will never know how Messrs Jackson and Clinton addressed the Almighty nor what precise prayer the two of them offered up, but to the cynical it seemed like an 11th-hour request for something pretty damned miraculous to get somebody off the hook.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for prayer. I believe it does soothe the troubled heart and can get you out of a tight corner at times. At times. Not every time. And often when you least expect it. That, too, is another matter.

No, what is hard to take is the public display of private devotion in a way that instantly invites a charge of hypocrisy and tars other struggling churchgoers with the same brush, giving ammunition to every militant atheist and bar-room philosopher in the land to sneer with derisory incredulity at the transparently shifty ways of the faithful.

Taking refuge in carefully drafted legalisms was not guaranteed to impress a public hoping (against every indication and precedent, it has to be said) for honesty and genuine contrition from the TV confessional. And what does it tell the world about Christianity and sex? Not much that's edifying that's for sure. About all it does say is that it's possible, if you'll pardon the phrase, to get off on a technicality. After all, this particular piece of "inappropriateness" could not be classed as adultery because it could not be classed as sex at all. Oh yeah? Try telling that to a partner who isn't a lawyer.

The Clinton affair has coincided neatly with the publication of a book that has become a surprise best-seller in New York; the collected epigrams of the 73-year-old former baseball star of the New York Yankees, Yogi Berra. The wit and wisdom of this unlikely wordsmith (the model, it's said, for the cartoon figure Yogi Bear) have felt uncannily apt this week. His much-quoted "It's deja vu all over again" could have been tailor-made for this latest high-level revelation. But better still is the advice he once gave a stranger asking for directions. Deployed in a different context it had the authentic ring of the White House spin doctor schooling an all too fallen president in the art of obfuscation. You can almost hear a smart presidential adviser quoting it verbatim. "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

Didn't the Southern Baptists teach him that the truth would set us free? Of course such towering simplicities are fine in principle. Those charged with running a country or confronting the realities of political power may find them harder to put into practice. And even a halfway educated or experienced electorate would have every sympathy with that.

They can forgive an occasional (if sometimes spectacular) fall from grace. What is harder to stomach is this hybrid of admission and denial which seeks to make Clinton's behaviour palatable to two mutually exclusive constituencies but succeeds in making it acceptable to neither.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee