The sky isn't falling. Today's "sex, lies, and audiotape" allegations are in some ways reminiscent of Watergate. But they splash into the living rooms of an America strikingly different from that of 1973, when the Watergate burglary trial set in train a political cataclysm.
Watergate jolted an America entering its worst recession since the Great Depression, shaken by the first '70s' oil shock, still mired in Vietnam, and nowhere near the end of the cold war.
Today's allegations fall on a US enjoying record prosperity, the lowest unemployment in a generation, nearing its first balanced budget in three decades, at peace, and rid of cold war fears. True, confidence has been shaken by Asian tailspins. Confrontation with Iraq looms once more. And Americans tell pollsters they worry about both the values and financial future they are handing on to their children. Furthermore, to the extent citizens tend to associate good times with their elected leader, they may now worry that crisis and stalemate in the White House could spell the end of a sunny era. That's wrong in both premise and conclusion. But it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy unless checked. There's no magic formula for halting another "long national nightmare." But to find our way out of this sad drama it may be useful to (1) make an unblinking assessment of the legal and political factors; (2) look at their impact at home and abroad; and (3) suggest one simple course of action. Assessing the allegations President Clinton, like any other citizen, is not above the law. As such, he had to submit sworn, videotaped testimony in a Whitewater trial. As such, he was questioned under oath for six hours for the Paula Jones civil suit against him. Like any citizen he is entitled to a presumption of innocence. But many in Washington suggest that he has artfully dodged the truth in answering questions about allegations of adultery. He reportedly changed his denial of one such affair, with Gennifer Flowers, in the Jones case deposition. He and his lawyers appear to be proceeding cautiously on the current Monica Lewinsky accusations because of his sworn statement in the same deposition that there was no adulterous affair with Ms. Lewinsky. Mr. Clinton's defenders argue, rightly, that there is a large cottage industry of zealots who purvey lurid tales about Vincent Foster's suicide and Arkansas drug pipelines to bring down the president. …