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
Saturday 22 August 1998
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.
Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rihanna's Met Gala dress took one Chinese woman 2 years to make, was reduced to omelette meme in 2 seconds
- 2 Qataris pledge to expand Canary Wharf
- 3 #JeSuisEd: People share photos of themselves eating awkwardly in solidarity with Labour leader
- 4 Women think Irish men are the sexiest, survey finds
- 5 Florida couple forced to register as sex offenders for having sex on public beach
Penny Dreadful, series 2 episode 1, review: It is still gloriously silly
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to replace Jeremy Clarkson and co
Eurovision 2015: What date and time is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Indiana Jones sequel confirmed by Lucasfilm - but will Harrison Ford return to the franchise?
In defence of liberal democracy
General Election 2015: Post-election 'shambles' looms as 70 per cent of voters say SNP 'should not be able to veto UK government policies'
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
General election live: Booths open at 7am across the country on polling day