Just reading the PG-rated portions of the Starr Report convinces me that the Clinton presidency is over.
He may not resign or be impeached, but he's through. If he's in office for the remainder of his term it will be a painful experience for all regardless of political party.He now is to the presidency what O.J. Simpson is to the justice system.
Legally, Simpson was found "not guilty" of murdering his ex-wife and Ron Goldman. The court of decency and public opinion has rendered its own verdict, however.
Anybody seen Simpson on a Hertz commercial lately? Or broadcasting football games? How about in movies? After all, he parlayed his charisma and athletic prowess into the Hollywood scene. Doubt if Spielberg's been leaving messages. Or any other director.
And he's no longer welcome at his country club. He's not behind bars but basically he spends his life in an open-air prison.
Clinton's lawyers/spinners are telling us that the president didn't commit perjury in the Paula Jones deposition or before the grand jury or obstruct justice or tamper with witnesses. Watching Clinton's lead attorney, David Kendall, defend the president's testimony on ABC's "This Week" was like watching someone trying to convince us that it's normal to wear heavy overcoats in mid-July in Phoe-nix. Despite the multitude of contradictions, Clinton's lawyers, like Simpson's, may prevail, though impeachment is as much a political process as a legal one.
Still, the horses, as they say, are already out the barn door and cannot be reclaimed.
That's because we don't need hair-splitting legal definitions to understand what occurred on Jan. 21.
After the Monica Lewinsky story broke, Clinton received a call from former political consultant Dick Morris. Morris wanted to express his condolences. Clinton explained that "with this girl I just slipped up." Morris, ever the political operative, responded, "There's a great capacity for forgiveness in this country, and you should consider tapping into it."
Morris then suggested he take a poll on the voters' willingness to forgive confessed adultery. The president agreed. Morris called the president later that evening with the findings, which showed that the voters were "willing to forgive (the president) for adultery but not for perjury or obstruction of justice."
The poll results, Morris explained, suggested that the president should not go public with a confession or explanation. Clinton replied, "Well, we just have to win then."
Live by the poll, die by the poll.
The decision not to come forward at that time, which Clinton described in his Aug. 17 speech as "misleading" the American people, is what has destroyed his presidency.
Just five days after the conversation with Morris, on the advice of his Hollywood producer friend Harry Thomason, Clinton appeared before the nation and uttered these oft-quoted words of self-condemnation while wagging his finger at the TV cameras: "I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me (we did). I'm going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."
The ideology and policies of a president are subject to debate. And while people may not agree with a particular point of view they can at least acknowledge it.
What is unacceptable is the selfishness shown by this president. By deciding not to come forward - because of Morris' polling data - in January, Clinton knowingly chose the alternative - engaging in deceptive conduct from that time forward. He clearly put his own interests before those of the country. He lied to his aides, his Cabinet and the American people. Whether that amounts legally to perjury or obstruction of justice is in a sense irrelevant.
What it does amount to is his inability to lead the country.
As Clinton's former chief of staff, Leon Panetta, told David Broder of the Washington Post, "This presidency is never going to be the same and that is something (Clinton) is going to have to bear."
Unfortunately, as long as William Jefferson Clinton stays in office, we'll have to bear it too.