What they're saying

Susan Faludi, Arianna Huffington and other commentators react to Clinton's day of reckoning

Published August 18, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

While President Clinton became the first president in American history to testify as the target of a criminal grand jury investigation, Salon spoke with a range of people about the historic occasion, media coverage of the event and Clinton's choice of admitting an "inappropriate" relationship with Monica Lewinsky while attacking Kenneth Starr's politicized probe of his presidency.

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"I can't think of any adjective strong enough to indicate my displeasure with what Starr has done. I think his conduct has been a disgrace to prosecutors everywhere. He has no business conducting this investigation into the president's private sexual life. This would not be going on in any other country in the world. He is treating this case like a murder case. The whole thing is absolutely outrageous.

"There are several things Starr has done since the commencement of this investigation over four years ago that all by itself would be grounds for his automatic dismissal, one of which is his preexisting bias against the president. He had an obligation at the time he was appointed to say, 'I'm flattered by the appointment but I cannot accept because I have a conflict of interest.' It is a terrible situation here because someone who is the virtual legal opponent of the president was appointed to investigate the president and ever since then he has conducted himself in a manner that is totally incompatible with what a responsible prosecutor would do.

"He is not the Whitewater prosecutor -- that's a misnomer. He is the Bill and Hillary Clinton prosecutor, determined to investigate every breath these two have taken and to get them out of the White House and behind bars. He's totally partisan, and again, his conduct is a disgrace to prosecutors everywhere.

"The right wing -- these are dangerous people. They are the most un-American, unpatriotic people that there are. They always thought that I was one of them, but they are learning now -- through my book "No Island of Sanity" -- that I'm not one of them. They've caused more damage to the Republican Party than the Democrats could ever dream of doing. An example of a true conservative would be John McCain. McCain's first words after he learned about the Monica Lewinsky allegations were, 'I hope and pray that the charges against the president are not true.' You know what the right wing said? They said, 'We hope the charges are true and that the president will be humiliated in front of the American public and the entire world.'

"These are the people responsible for this mess, with the assistance of the New York Times, the Washington Post, liberal papers that are catering to the far right. These people haven't learned that there is nothing you can do to appease the far right, except change your voter registration. Starr has been allowed to get by with [his investigation] because papers like the Times and the Post have been complicit in letting him.

"If the president stood up to Starr today, I salute him. If he did stand up to Starr then I'm very happy that he did that not just for the grand jury's sake, but for the American people."

-- Vincent Bugliosi, federal prosecutor and author most recently of "No Island of Sanity: Paula Jones v. Bill Clinton"

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"I think a blasting of Starr is overdue and not just from Clinton, but from the media. I would be in favor of anyone challenging Starr. To me, the real shame is that Clinton has to do this work instead of the press, who should, in the name of fairness and even-handedness, be examining the examiner as well as the examinee. (But) that really hasn't happened and we all know why -- because they are getting handouts in the form of leaks from Starr and they don't want to turn off the spigot."

-- Susan Faludi, journalist and author of "Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women"

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"What Clinton admitted to is the CD-ROM version of jerking off about Monica Lewinsky when she's not there -- which probably makes him one of the few men in the world who has jerked off about Ms. Lewinsky. But his idea that it really wasn't sex because she really didn't get anything out of it will never become known as the gallantry defense. And what does it say about America that a federal judge [in the Paula Jones case] can set down a definition of sex that leaves a mouth-sized loophole in it; and a palm-sized one, too. And that nobody noticed."

-- Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair columnist

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"When the ship is sinking, people try to bring everyone down with them. The problem for Clinton is that so many people have already jumped off his ship, the USS Clinton, and taken their own life preservers, like his top former aides Leon Panetta, Dee Dee Myers and George Stephanopoulos. I'm not surprised that when one is backed into a corner of one's own making one would try to lash out at everything around them, however, I don't think it's going to be effective. I think the folks that will be least likely to move at this point towards sympathy for Bill Clinton would be the grand jury. It's Ken Starr who they have looked at every day for six months, it is Ken Starr who has ignored approval ratings and popularity contests and applied the law. I think the grand jury is Bill Clinton's least captive audience.

"We can be mad at the press, we can be mad at the pollsters, we can be mad at the world, we can be mad at the right-wing conspiracy, but one person could have put a stop to this at so many different points along the way. That's the problem Clinton's got here. People can appreciate human behavior, human nature. But (the Lewinsky affair) was ongoing, systematic, not casual, which means he liked her -- take that one, Hillary, but he liked her. He could have settled the Paula Jones case early on and we would not have known who Monica Lewinsky was -- there are so many things that were under his control. Every time he's asking us for a second chance, he's really asking us for a 20th chance."

-- Kellyanne Fitzpatrick, president of the Polling Company and a conservative commentator

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"I'm struck by how absurd and overheated the media coverage of this scandal is. It's beyond me how Brokaw and Jennings and Rather can keep a straight face, pretending this nonsense is about high matters of state, when in fact it's basically about ratings and careers. During Reagan's Iran-contra scandal, which did raise fundamental constitutional issues, the media was afraid to even breathe the word 'impeachment.' Now they seem to treat impeachment as sport."

-- Mark Hertsgaard, author of "On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency"

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"I saw 'Saving Private Ryan' over the weekend. And while I was watching it I was thinking about all those guys who died like that for our country, for freedom and democracy. If they could see what is happening now, they would be turning over in their graves. It is a disgrace. If the president's not held to these standards of truth, then how are our children to be held to standards of truth?

"As for Hillary, there's only two possibilities. Either she's Lady Macbeth, who's made a deal for power, or she's a classic abused wife, that is to say, she knows what her husband does but she keeps coming back for more, she makes excuses for him, she blames everybody else but him. Those are all the classic descriptions of an abused wife. So those are the only two possibilities, and I believe it's the first."

-- Barbara Ledeen, policy director of the conservative Independent Women's Forum

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"I don't think it will provide the catharsis that is necessary for all of us to move on. The catharsis has to convince us that he really feels sorry that he put the nation through the last seven months, that he did look us in the eye and lie to us when he said he did not have sexual relations with that woman. All I'm saying is that those two states of mind are incompatible. You cannot be on the offensive when you're apologizing.

"If Bob Woodward was right and Hillary found out this weekend, then I cannot imagine that she would immediately be strategizing about how to move on the offensive when she must have also felt betrayed -- not only as a wife, but as a partner who went on the 'Today' show and told Matt Lauer that these allegations were not going to be proven true, that if they were proven true, then they would be a serious offense.

"As a mother who has a 7-year-old and a 9-year-old, I want this to have a conclusion that has some type of moral lesson for children, and a free pass is not a moral lesson. To have no consequences is not a moral lesson.

"I think it's very sad. I'm somebody who has actually admired Hillary's commitment to reform even when I disagreed with her proposal. I admired the fact that she really wanted to change things. The message that she's now sending to women is very disturbing to me because it's not just stand by your man, it's go out there and defend his lies."

-- Arianna Huffington, commentator

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"This crisis is the result of Clinton's doing. It's embarrassing that he did this, that he lied about it. I think [by Clinton attacking Starr] he will exacerbate the partisan feeling. What he should be doing I think is pressing the case for unity, rather than for more partisanship. That's what the country wants -- a healing process. Attacking is just not going to sit well with the American people. Tone is very important here."

"In the long haul, I think this is all going to enhance the possibility that we are going to see a woman as president. People do not see women as having as weak a moral compass as men. I think the public is tired of all this tawdriness and macho business, all these stories about Kennedy's womanizing and Johnson's philandering, and even the lust in Jimmy Carter's heart. I would not be surprised if we saw women on both vice presidential tickets next time around."

-- Robert Dallek, presidential historian

By Dawn MacKeen

Dawn MacKeen is a former senior writer for Salon, and author of a forthcoming book about her grandfather’s survival of the Armenian Genocide, "The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2016).

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By Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

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Bill Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton