Walk like a man

A fed-up American offers common sense to President Clinton about his upcoming grand jury showdown: Walk like a man.

Published August 14, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

FRANKFURT, GERMANY --When I want to find out how real-life, everyday Americans feel about the Starr-Clinton-Lewinsky saga, I call my mother. She lives in a small Kansas town, and the pulse of the real America flows through her. From Europe, where I am, the whole ugly mess in Washington seems surreal, like a very bad B movie or a skit from "Saturday Night Live." By talking to my mom, I know I am hearing the views of the great "Silent Majority" of Americans.

She is a meek, kind 78-year-old woman who attends church every Sunday. She is old-fashioned, hard-working and she raised nine children alone after my father died. She is extremely proud to be an American. And she is 100 percent perplexed at the Constitutional melodrama now unfolding in Washington. "I think it is so silly," she told me. "It's just terrible the way Ken Starr is latching on to this Lewinsky thing and making such a big deal out of it. He is a foolish man."

And if my hunch is correct that my mother reflects what is good and great and wonderful about America, and that Linda Tripp's claim to being "just like you" is simply not true, then millions and millions of Americans also think that Mr. Starr is a foolish man.

Often when I have heard the pundits puzzling about why Americans have not turned on President Clinton, why he still enjoys tremendous approval, I have to shake my head. What these pundits do not comprehend is the common sense and intelligence of the American people. They are the true heroes of the farce being played out in Washington. They know that life is not a matter of just black and white, but that all facets of human existence contain myriad shades of gray.

I would compare the American people's view of the Ken Starr investigation to the small child in the famous fable. While the adults are ooohing and aaahing about the king's new clothes, and the press is reporting every fashionable detail, the child blurts out: "But he's naked!"

Most Americans believe that Ken Starr's investigation -- once the high-sounding moral and legal platitudes are stripped away -- is naked politics perpetrated by sour losers trying to circumvent the Constitution. Most believe the investigation is not only ludicrous, but highly damaging to the office of the presidency and to the United States of America. They believe that Mr. Clinton is of the people and was elected by the people, for the people. They believe he should be allowed -- without a political noose tightening around his neck -- to concentrate on the truly serious issues confronting the United States, and the world

But somehow, the most powerful man in the world has been trapped in a political -- not legal -- corner. On Monday, he will be ordered by Starr to give sworn grand jury testimony about his sex life, a humiliation no average American (other than Monica Lewinsky) would ever be forced to endure. But for some reason, the pundits and folks on Capitol Hill are demanding it from President Clinton.

After spending $40-plus million dollars and wrecking many lives and, some would say, the U.S. Constitution, Starr has set the stage for the final act. What should the president do? Most would agree he should continue to maintain his dignity, as he has done for all these years under the vicious spotlight of a Grand Inquisitor. The president has endured pressures and public humiliations that would have driven most into supreme isolation, or to public ravings about Starr. But he has quietly continued to do his job, sheltering his dignity and the dignity of his office from political assaults.

In the Grand Finale, he should do the same. Monday morning, instead of hiding in the White House and speaking to the grand jury over closed-circuit TV, he should go to the federal courthouse for his rendezvous with destiny. And not by motorcade, but on foot, with his valiant chief bodyguard, Larry Cockell, by his side. Of course, camera crews and Sam Donaldson and Wolf Blitzer and Jackie Judd and others would be panting at his side, shouting silly questions. But the president would be happy and would joke, striding confidently like Gary Cooper to the final showdown. He would shake hands and talk with the tourists, ask them how they are doing, and he would smile as he strides into the courthouse. He would leave his lawyers outside the door, and walk only with Cockell into the courtroom and sit before the grand jurors, his fellow Americans. He would remain dignified and presidential, as always, but calmly -- and firmly -- tell Starr that four years of a Grand Inquistion is enough.

He would say: "I draw the line right here and now, Mr. Starr. Enough. I will tell you that, yes, I like that woman, Monica. And, yes, we had a close, warm relationship. But, Mr. Starr, it is none of your business, or the rest of the country's, what happened between us. And I ask you, ladies and gentlemen of the grand jury, do you, in your hearts, believe I should answer this question? Do you really believe this investigation is fair, is ethical, is right? Or do you think it is being waged for political reasons? Is it really worth all the damaged lives and pain and hurt and cost? Mr. Starr, I plead the Fifth Amendment. I will not answer that question. And I think it's time someone did a heap of serious investigating of you and your motives and your backers. Now, please, just write your report, send it to Congress and go teach law on the beaches of California. I am going to continue to work hard for the country I love, for people who elected me to serve them."

And the president -- free at last -- would get up and leave the room, and walk back home. And my mother, along with millions and millions of Americans from sea to shining sea, would give President Clinton the longest, loudest standing ovation of his life.

And America could return to normal.

By Ned Stafford

Ned Stafford is a financial journalist based in Europe.

MORE FROM Ned Stafford

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bill Clinton