by Patrick J. Buchanan – August 21, 1998
WASHINGTON — In ordering U.S. cruise missile strikes on the terrorist base in Afghanistan and the chemical weapons plant in Sudan, President Clinton acted decisively against the enemies of this country. These retaliatory — and pre-emptive — strikes were justified and merit the support of his countrymen.
But as the president returns to Martha’s Vineyard, the darkening cloud that hangs over his presidency has not lifted — and indeed the sad end to this presidency is beginning to come into view.
The president’s options are now two. He can resign, giving up all chance of redemption, and face indictments for multiple perjuries and obstruction of justice. Or he can watch his presidency sink in the moral squalor of nightly revelations of his deceit and decadence.
The night before Clinton testified, I wondered aloud on CNN why he was doing it. If, as appeared certain, Clinton had lied in his sworn deposition in the Paula Jones suit, he would be going into the grand jury — either to admit perjury or to commit perjury.
It appears he may have done both. Forty-eight hours after his testimony, leaks were flowing all over this city that Monica would return to testify that the president lied when he said he was never an active partner in the Oval Office sexcapades. The conflicts under oath between what she says they did and what he says they did are already being dissected on the nightly news.
In his speech Monday night, Clinton declared that the answers in his sworn deposition “were legally accurate. … I told the grand jury today and I say to you now that at no time did I ask anyone to lie, to hide or destroy evidence, or to take any other unlawful action.”
But are we to believe it was “legally accurate” for Clinton to say under oath he could “not recall” being alone with Monica? Are we to believe he did not coordinate his testimony with Monica, that their mutually supportive and perjured denials of an affair were coincidence? Are we to believe Betty Currie decided on her own to retrieve the gifts Bill gave Monica, so she could deny having any?
Clinton has no well of credibility left on which to draw, as he asks us, once again, to believe things that are non-credible.
How does he continue to lead the republic?
Two years ago, Dick Morris resigned in disgrace from Clinton’s campaign when a tabloid revealed he had a prostitute regularly visit him at his hotel. Morris confessed, apologized and quit. But which is worse, a weak man paying a professional prostitute for cheap love and confessing his weakness — or the president using the Oval Office to seduce and exploit for his gratification a 21-year-old girl, and then looking the American people in the eye and lying about it?
Morris is gone, but was Clinton’s behavior more honorable?
The Clintonites insist that if all the sexual sins of Washington required resignations or impeachments, Congress would not be able to muster a quorum to vote to impeach. Fair enough. But if we ought not to demand sanctity of our presidents, we can at least demand a high measure of truthfulness, integrity, honor and the fortitude to accept the consequences of one’s own failings.
Can even Clinton loyalists say he has met that standard?
With the president’s testimony, this scandal metastasized. It will spread now until it incapacitates his presidency, and humiliates his family totally, even if his approval rating is still above 60 percent and even if 70 percent of the country still does not want him to leave.
What is going to happen from here on out will be dreadful for the Clintons and the country. Consider what lies ahead: wall-to-wall coverage of all the lewd details of what went on in the Oval Office, until the Starr report hits, alleging perjury and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Then comes the revelation of what is on Linda Tripp’s hours of tapes of Monica detailing what she did with the president. Then, a fall election where Republicans win by default and bitter Democrats lose because of Bill Clinton. Then comes the Impeachment Congress of 1999, as we are force-marched back over the same X-rated terrain we have traversed for seven months. All the while, late-night comedians will be making a mockery of Clinton, as press and political foes excoriate him, while friends are silent.
Clinton’s War Room warns that if Congress tries to impeach him “over sex,” their sexual sins, too, will be exposed. This is the moral equivalent of shooting hostages before giving up.
The other night, Chuck Colson told a story on TV. He had been in England for a dinner when someone raised a glass and said, “To the queen.” Americans and Brits stood to toast her majesty. Then, someone raised a glass and said, “To the president of the United States.” The whole room broke out laughing. Thus does the last superpower lead the world into the 21st century.
Clinton’s adversaries are already calling on him to vacate the office he has disgraced. He will not do so until the chorus is joined by the allies who put him there. And perhaps that is as it should be.