It greets you at every turn - dominating conversation and plastered across newspaper pages. It bogs down the Internet and is ever-present on television and radio. Its grip has an entire nation under its spell.
We speak, of course, of the home-run chase involving Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. Isn't it great to have something to occupy leisure time in lieu of the sordid Starr Report?It is, but with momentum for impeachment picking up steam, Clinton's capers pose a significant topic difficult to ignore.
Hearing tidbits from blushing CNN commentators the day the document was released, along with skimming highlights of a sanitized version, was enough to fulfill Civics 101 requirements without delving into unwanted specifics. Republicans should spare us further embarrassment and withhold videotaped testimony and mounds of additional dirt. Just ask folks in American Fork - you don't have to watch all of "Titanic" to know the ship sank.
More than 400 pages from Ken Starr merely confirmed what many already knew or suspected: President Clinton is an untruthful, uncontrolled, self-centered, charismatic reprobate. He has admittedly used and abused hundreds of women as feminists sang his praises - an odd contradiction. Yet such is life when politics supplant principles. Moral relativism fosters such inconsistencies.
When values are not attached to absolutes of right and wrong, people are left to flip-flop on anything - including the veracity of legally accurate definitions and responses. Fred Flaxman, for example, said in the San Francisco Examiner that the president's lying was an "honorable thing to do."
Consider his twisted logic: "The truth is that, like the males of most species, the human male is not naturally a physically monogamous animal. But there are huge social pressures favoring monogamy. This situation presents conflicts for many men, and they have sex outside of marriage.
"They may love their wives and children and want to maintain a strong family life, but they also crave a bit of sexual variety. Such activity is widely perceived as wrong, as Clinton admitted in his address to the nation, and it certainly is dangerous to marriages and family life. Therefore, men (and women) who cheat on their spouses but care about them and their children usually cover it up. Truth is, that is the right and honorable thing to do if they don't want to hurt the people they love."
That sounds like the same moral rationale used on Pennsylvania Avenue: Gratify desires on a whim, then protect those you love by keeping them in the dark about it.
Clinton's questionable contrition - at being caught, and "hurting" those he loves, including major campaign donors - is likewise contradictory: "I have sinned . . . but I've instructed my lawyers to mount a vigorous defense."
Wonder how that would play with St. Peter?
Genuine repentance goes beyond "I'm sorry" to include reparation and forsaking future misdeeds. It takes time and does not negate consequences. Clinton's consequences, both personal and political, are playing out and will for some time. In the meantime, his sincerity is suspect. Redemption is not beyond reach, but like anyone else, a person crawling from White House tar pits has to really scrub to come clean. Asking pollsters to measure penance readings among constituents may leave him lacking.
With all of this, is there any way to erase the national "dirty ring" left from Clinton's improprieties? He has established a high-water mark of low-life behavior by public officials, then repeatedly covered up with falsehoods that deeply offend bipartisan sensibilities. This isn't a one-time slip-up followed by genuine remorse. His pathology has frayed the nation's moral fabric through his unseemly example, disregard for truth and law, and the resultant uncivil details and dialogue. Who can blame Starr for pinning down the president with minutia, given the latter's propensity for Houdini-like escapes from personal predicaments?
Clinton lacks moral will (no relation to George) and is anchored to nothing more fixed than polls, campaign contributions and a four-year election cycle. His modus operandi mirrors - and contributes to - that of a society described in Mary Pipher's book, "The Shelter of Each Other":
"I define will as the ability to act on the basis of one's values. . . . Since birth, the current generation of young adults has been fed a steady diet of junk food and junk values. . . . Their values come from ads, talk shows, popular psychology, music, comics and movies.
"This generation has been educated via the media to find pleasure in many wrong things - alcohol, casual sex, violence and consumption. Cynicism is king. Ideas are trivialized, and the sacred becomes profane. . . . The decision to have sex can be as casual as the decision to see a movie, and as meaningful. Many young adults have had dozens of sexual partners and no real relationships."
The president may be both a product of and contributor to such decadence. It would be refreshing, still, to see him stand up and admit responsibility for his actions, then to step down for the public good. But don't bet on it, since he apparently lacks the values and moral will to do the right thing. And where there is no will, there's no way - even if he's sorry.
In the meantime, let's get back to America's other national pastime: baseball. It's a much cleaner spectator sport.