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
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