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
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

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

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
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.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower