Clinton has become a polarizing figure in American politics and culture as a result of the Lewinsky affair and its aftermath. I am particularly struck by how the "intelligentsia "--a word I'll use to denote highly educated people, in this country mainly academics and journalists, who write books or articles dealing with matters of social or political significance--became passionately divided over the question of impeachment and more broadly over the proper evaluation of the entire business.
It is important to distinguish polarization from disagreement. One should not be surprised that people disagree over how harshly to judge Clinton's behavior, and that of Starr and the other supporting players, and over whether impeachment was the proper response. These are difficult questions. What is surprising, or at least calls for explanation, is the emotionality of the disagreement. The tone in which the issue has been debated, and the recklessness with which many intelligent people, including many academics,1 took sides passionately and dogmatically before it was possible to know what the facts were, their refusal to face the facts when they became known, their unwillingness to concede any merit to points made by opponents, their proneness to exaggeration, distortion, and oversimplification, and the sheer unreason demonstrated by so many of the people who became caught up in the public debate--all these were signs of the emotionality that the issue aroused.____________________