Please, my comrade prigs, don't let the far right win

This week I looked upon the leader of the American Taleban, Ken Starr, and I knew my enemy
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The Independent Culture
SO AMERICA fiddled while the world burned. Demonstrations were broken up on the skyscraper-lined streets of Kuala Lumpur, as President Clinton's taped evidence on the Lewinsky affair was played on American TV. Journalists covering the story - clammily penned together in hot studios, steamy newsrooms and humid press conferences - went quietly mad.

One senior BBC man, covering Clinton's address to the General Assembly of the United Nations, spoke of how the 26 heads of state and 100 plus ambassadors gathered there were "bit part actors on the edge of the real drama". One wonders what the listening President Mandela, who had probably already sanctioned his country's military intervention in Lesotho yesterday, and who has been desperately attempting to broker a peace in the Congo, made of being sidelined by the "real drama" of cigars and genitalia?

A charmless barminess has now set in. On Monday I heard at least three respected journalists talking excitedly about Mr Clinton's videotape evidence. Of course, the tape was not live at all, it was a month old. But that does not sound half so exciting, does it? And because no one can quite believe the polls, and their steady support for Bill, every diner and mall in Middle America - from Butte to Buffalo - seems to have a foreign reporter in it interrupting eggs easy-over to discover whether their statistically worthless consumers think Mr Clinton should sling his priapic hook.

Other moments to treasure include the description on TV bulletins of Ms Lewinsky's little blue number being "stained with DNA" (an all-purpose euphemism that will surely find its way into Persil ads); the prosecutorial question that ran, "Mr President, if there is a semen stain belonging to you on a dress belonging to Miss Lewinsky, how would you explain that?" ("Well, Mr Prosecutor, when a boy reaches puberty, his...") and the moment when former White House aide, Harold Ickes (whose name, I had always believed, was pronounced like David Icke's), was introduced to British viewers as "Mr Icky".

We are all Mr Ickys now. True, we are forced to concede, the President of the United Sates did win a standing ovation at the UN, but might this not have been a case of the National Union of World Statesmen protecting their own? And true, these polls are beginning to look suspiciously like the settled mind of the American people. But, on the whole - left and right - we still think that fibbin' Bill ought to go.

The leftish version of this is to express anger at Clinton's squandering of his own opportunity to "make a difference". In 1992 the man from Hope arrived with his talk of health care reform and fundamental change - and six years later the poor are still poor, still uneducated and they still cannot get decent health care. Moreover Clinton's America is still awash with guns and still regards itself as the world's policeman, with bombing rights over most of the globe.

He is - so this argument goes - incontinent, self-indulgent and a menace to women everywhere: Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Katherine Willey, Monica Lewinsky. And he lies. So, Clinton is not a man that liberals should feel any need to support.

Why then is it, feeling the tug of this argument as I do, that as I watched Clinton on Monday, and listened to the Republicans lined up in the various studios, I began to believe more strongly than ever that he must under no circumstances resign, and that any sensible liberal must defend him?

There is a strain of the left that is, and always has been, priggish. It dislikes the compromises associated with office and is offended by the business of politics in general, and the exercise of power in particular.

Like Dickens's preaching Mr Honeythunder in Edwin Drood, it tends to love humanity but not humans. It will march happily alongside a new government for the first gay steps of its incumbency, but will go and sit on a fallen log and moan loudly, as soon as the road becomes stony.

I almost forebear from pointing out to my comrade prigs that, judging from the Lewinsky case, Clinton does not seem to be a sexual harasser or even particularly predatory. And Monica's evidence suggests that he practises as much self-deception as he does deception of others. This is not new. Many men and women I have known believed that if they stopped short of full intercourse with someone other than their partner, then they had somehow not "gone the whole way".

But my main reason for asking the prigs to reconsider, is because I have a vivid mental picture of an America in which Clinton does not occupy the White House, and in which the Far Right, which dominates the Republican party, is in the unchallenged ascendancy. This week I gazed upon the countenance of the leader of America's Taleban, Ken Starr, and witnessed that apocalyptic procession of bony harpies and lizardy lawyers that is the Republican Right - and I knew my enemy.

These are not folk who care about the "truth". Their presidential candidate at the the 96 election, Bob Dole, fought like hell against Nixon's impeachment. When The Washington Post was publishing its revelations about the Nixon White House, Dole talked of a "cultural and social affinity" between the journalists and the left wing of the Democratic party, which was leading them to bring the President down.

Now it is payback time.

These were guys who batted nary an eyelid at the CIA's involvement in the coup against Salvador Allende's democratic government in Chile in 1973, and who we will not expect to see marking the 25th anniversary of the murder of singer Victor Jara in the sports stadium in Santiago. And these are the politicians who voted for an end to affirmative action for American blacks, and in favour of guns, tobacco companies and environmental degradation.

Just this week the Republicans in Congress have been arguing to cut appropriations for family planning initiatives in America and the Third World, for fighting pollution and the spoliation of the Florida Everglades, for home heating assistance for the poor. And to spend the current budget surplus on a middle class tax break for married couples, rather than on Social Security retirement benefits for America's impoverished old.

They are also increasingly in favour of the protectionism which, interestingly, leftwing Labour MP Alan Simpson so spiritedly advocated in these pages yesterday. But, above all, they are Kulturkampfer, for whom the word "liberal" is still a term of abuse. They wish to turn the social clock back to the good old days of Joe McCarthy and Howard Hughes, on abortion, on race, on homosexuality. As the Lewinsky case has shown, they talk about sex in the same prurient, obsessive, disgusted, detailed fashion that homophobes discuss buggery. They are first cousins to Osama bin Laden, to Ian Paisley, to the Holy Inquisition and to Ann Widdecombe.

So yes, Clinton has proved himself to be a lying bastard. But he is our lying bastard. And that is why, at the end of Monica Lewinsky's testimony, it was not Clinton that she cursed, but the curtain-twitching, tape recording, mendacious, upright heroine of the Starr chamber. "I hate Linda Tripp", said Monica. And then she cried.