From pundit pulpits and cyber perches, the cry of the president's enablers
and defenders goes forth: It's only sex! It's none of your business! Leave
Come again? Hasn't our collective consciousness been raised a notch since
the days when men did what they felt they were entitled to and women knew
their place? Isn't the appropriate response to say that the president's
alleged behavior is -- how shall we put it -- unacceptable in decent
society? And haven't we got past the traditional trashing of the victim --
"She wanted it," "She asked for it," "She stalked him" and other "talking
points" on the White House spin sheet? Not to mention the lying and the
smearing of anyone and everyone by those whose job it is to cover the
Remember the Richard Nixon bumper stickers with the slogan, "Would you buy
a used car from this man?" Well, would you buy one from President Clinton?
And wasn't the underlying point of the slogan quite serious -- that the
inability to trust the president is a matter of state that has consequences
beyond private hideaways in the Oval Office?
Consider the recent minuet over the Persian Gulf. In the midst of the
Lewinsky affair, it became very difficult to assess the meaning of the war
noises emanating from the White House. Were they really directed at Saddam
Hussein and his arsenal of anthrax, or did they serve a more immediate
Clintonian agenda? Forget the polls. During the recent war buildup,
Clinton had all the legal authority to send American troops into harm's
way, but he did not have the moral authority to rally citizens to the cause.
Instead, one wonders how clearly Clinton, embroiled in a scandal that threatens his very presidency, thought through the implications of the deal
struck between U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Iraqi regime? Has
the U.S. signed on to a dangerous policy of appeasement because the
president's attention is elsewhere? Whose safety is most at stake here --
the free world's or Clinton's?
Because of the breach of trust that has opened up between leader and
people, those questions will nag. And that is the point. This is no longer
merely a scandal about sex. It is about presidential responsibility and
effectiveness, and the spectacle of senior government officials spending
their time covering up for his misdeeds. It is also about certain people
around the president who know they have him over a barrel -- Bruce
Lindsey, Webster Hubbell and perhaps even Monica Lewinsky -- who exact a price
for their silence, in the form of power, jobs and "consulting fees."
Perhaps most important of all is the issue of equal justice.
While the commander in chief's servants scurry to throw investigators off
the track of his own misdeeds, uniformed soldiers under his command are
being court-martialed, cashiered and imprisoned for acts little different
from those the president is alleged to have committed with Kathleen Willey
and Lewinsky. The only two differences between the Clinton case and
the doomed soldiers is that the latter are black, and the military has
ways of compelling testimony against men in the dock of which Kenneth
Starr can only dream.
And let us not forget Tailhook, which, after all, was only a sex party that
the late President Kennedy, and his hero-worshipping descendant -- would no
doubt have enjoyed. Yet, because of that party, hundreds of careers were
ruined, including those of a secretary of the Navy and nearly a dozen
admirals who had served their country in time of war. These men were
disgraced and stripped of their commands, not because they had partaken of
sexual frivolities, but because they had failed to move swiftly and
punitively enough in the judgment of those who consider almost any sexual
contact a form of sexual harassment. Two presidents -- one of them was
Clinton -- agreed with that judgment and demanded that heads roll.
Let one sacrificial lamb among them stand for all. Cmdr. Robert Stumpf
was an 18-year veteran of the Naval Air Force and a recipient of the
Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in 50 combat missions during the Gulf
War. He had come to the Tailhook convention not for sex but to receive an
award for commanding what was deemed to be the best FA-18
flying squadron during Desert Storm. Stumpf's career was
terminated during Clinton's watch, not because he attended the
Tailhook frivolities -- he did not -- but because he happened to be staying
in the San Diego hotel where they took place.
Let all those who say that the present presidential scandal is "only about
sex" remember Cmdr. Stumpf and his commander in chief, who signed off
on this cruel and unjust punishment of a legitimate American hero. Let
them then ask themselves whether their country is served by having double
standards for those who lead and those who serve.