Leading Article: Sex, lies and humbug

Share
Related Topics
TOMORROW THE President of the United States will testify by video before a Federal grand jury on whether he perjured himself when he denied a sexual relationship with the White House intern Monica Lewinsky. It is now thought likely that he will admit to some form of intimate relationship with Miss Lewinsky, though not to "sexual relations". But the President's opponents, the independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, and the Republican Congressional majority, are guilty of a graver offence: humbug masquerading as democratic vigilance.

In the first place, Republicans do not really believe Mr Clinton committed a serious tort. His alleged perjury took place in a civil suit Paula Jones filed under sexual-harassment law. When she charged that the then Governor of Arkansas had propositioned her in a hotel room, Clinton was required to answer her questions about his sexual conduct since becoming president. Until Mrs Jones came along, Republicans had insisted that sexual harassment was nothing more than a feminism-fuelled litigative lottery that allowed some women to collect money when men they did not fancy made passes at them. The Republican critique has won broad acceptance. Judges of both political parties now generally respond to sexual harassment cases - as to Paula Jones's - by chucking them out of court.

In the second place, the Republicans once strenuously denied the constitutionality of the independent counsel law, which was passed in 1978 in the wake of Watergate. Kenneth Starr even wrote a brief against the office he now occupies. Until Bill Clinton won the Presidency in 1992, and the Republican campaign of calumny and detraction began, the view of Congressional conservatives was that the independent counsel exists outside the checks and balances envisioned in the constitution.

Yet Mr Clinton himself is no stranger to humbug. He did not complain when the Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas was nearly denied confirmation over a "sexual harassment" incident that consisted of one dirty joke. Nor was he troubled when Ronald Reagan's presidency was crippled after 1987 by the inquiry into the illegal raising of money and arms for the Nicaraguan Contras. It is a telling parallel. Throughout the 1980s, Democrats warned that Mr Reagan was a doddering old warmonger. But that is what the voters wanted - a doddering old warmonger. In the Contra scandal, a Democratic congressional majority and a power-hungry independent prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, reckoned that if Americans could not be made to see reason at the polls, then the work of removing (or disabling) Mr Reagan had best be done judicially. It is a dangerously anti-democratic tendency.

Starr and the Republicans are making the same mistake. Voters have always been aware that Mr Clinton is, as the Southern idiom has it, a hard dog to keep on the porch. And they don't care. They have prospered under his Presidency. They may even value his goatishness as an antidote to all the prudery and prohibitionism that travels under the "family values" rhetoric of both parties. Such rhetoric is not unknown in this country, of course. In the current issue of the Spectator, the Greek-American playboy Taki writes that the President's offence was that he had not restrained his sexual impulses even though he is the head of a country with " its Christian values written in stone". In fact, the United States is explicitly a non-Christian country. The US Constitution contains many noble sentiments, but nowhere does it mention God, let alone Jesus Christ; and the First Amendment insists on the separation of church and state.

It is true that Bill Clinton, an avowed Baptist, might be expected to take the injunctions of his religion rather more seriously than he apparently does, but he is not the first Baptist, nor the first president, to play away from home. There is indeed a moral question here, but the morality has been muddied by the less attractive members of America's religious right, and by those who cannot and will not reconcile themselves to Clinton's victories in 1992 and 1996.

Mr Clinton must be prosecuted to show that no one is above the law, Republicans argue. This is, as Americans would say, baloney. That no one is above the law is an important American principle, but it gets flouted from time to time, with no lasting damage. That people have a right to the president they elected - provided that he is not guilty of a crime or misdemeanour far more serious than lying about sex - is a principle of incomparably greater importance in a democracy. America ignores it at its peril.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Membership Manager

£35 - 38k + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Account Manager ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Advisor / Administrator

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This position will in the main ...

Recruitment Genius: Ecommerce Assistant

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the top Cosmeceutical br...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£350 p/d (Contract): Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Web Developer (PHP /...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
A study of 16 young women performing light office work showed that they were at risk of being over-chilled by air conditioning in summer  

It's not just air conditioning that's guilty of camouflage sexism

Mollie Goodfellow
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks