Bill's problem and ours
by Jonathan Rosenblum
February 6, 1998
'What the president does behind closed doors is nobody's business,' runs the received wisdom of the day. Morality, we are assured, can be neatly bifurcated into public and private spheres.
Nothing could be further from the Jewish view. For us, all life is ultimately lived in the presence of God. The claim that one area of life has no implications for other areas belongs to the evil inclination's arsenal of tricks. Conscience and self-discipline cannot be infinitely compartmentalized.
Just because someone cheats at golf - another notorious Clinton failing - doesn't mean he will rob a bank, but one would be well-advised to be careful buying a used car from him.
William Jefferson Blythe Clinton himself constitutes the clinching refutation for the argument for unrelated moral spheres. The taint of personal corruption has adhered to him no less than the rumors of insatiable womanizing from the beginning of his political career. Consider some of the highlights:
* The Clintons' erstwhile Whitewater partner, Susan McDougal, today rots in jail for contempt of court for her refusal to testify, despite a grant of immunity, concerning the president's role in procuring a fraudulent loan from the Small Business Administration, the proceeds of which eventually ended up in the Whitewater account. If the president has nothing to hide, why doesn't he tell his former close friend to reveal whatever
* On his way to jail for embezzlement, Webster Hubbell, Hillary's former law partner and associate attorney-general, was lucky enough to have Clinton's closest aides arrange for him to receive $400,000 in consulting fees from close Clinton cronies. Hush money?
* Former Little Rock restaurateur Charles Yah Lin Trie thoughtfully handed over to the Clinton Defense Fund a paper bag stuffed with $460,000 in illegal, laundered contributions. The grateful president created for him a new seat on a federal trade commission. Under federal indictment, Trie has conveniently fled the country to avoid testifying.
* The White House and the president were virtually rented out to Democratic donors in 1996: $10,000-$25,000 for invitations to state dinners; $50,000-$100,000 for dinner or an hour-long chat over coffee with the president; and for really big bucks, a night in the Lincoln bedroom, golf with the president, or a ride on Air Force One. The president only stopped months of denying the 'sale of the White House' when a memo outlining the plan turned up with his enthusiastic scribbling: 'Yes, pursue all 3 and promptly. . . . Ready to
start overnights right away.' Michael Kelly of the liberal New Republic characterized the 1996 Clinton fundraising operation as setting 'a level of corruption and greed . . . that is unprecedented.'
* One of the most successful Democratic fundraisers was John Huang, a former employee of the Indonesia-based Lippo Group, who was personally installed by the president at the Commerce Department and the Democratic National Committee. Of the millions he collected from Asians, large sums came from the Lippo Group itself, which has been described as a 'joint venture with the Chinese government.'
* Denied White House access to sell his plans for a multibillion dollar oil pipeline from the Caucasus to Turkey, shadowy Lebanese-American businessman Roger Tamraz became a major Democratic contributor and frequent White House visitor. After one private chat with the president, Clinton told his chief of staff to press the Department of Energy to find a way to support the proposal. Quid pro quo.
BILL Clinton is the most powerful man in the world, holding in his hands the power to destroy the world many times over. If he were a drug addict, would anyone claim that his addiction was irrelevant? Is it far-fetched to think that his 'girl' problem similarly numbs his judgment?
To the extent that a person is thrall to his material or physical desires, our Sages stress, he is incapable of objectively evaluating a situation.
Certainly Clinton has repeatedly shown himself unable to make the elementary calculation, 'Weigh the reward of the sin against its cost,' even by his own calculus of reward and cost.
We have come a long way from the days that JFK romped in the White House.
Someone as bright as Clinton must surely have realized that he could not keep his activities behind closed doors. Consider the logistical difficulties alone. The president is constantly surrounded by Secret Service agents, just as he was surrounded as Arkansas governor by state troopers, who later proved embarrassingly talkative.
In the nature of things, his affairs of the heart have a very limited life expectancy. At the end, there is always likely to be one embittered party, like Gennifer Flowers, eager to talk for revenge or money. And, Yael Dayan notwithstanding, there are many women who do not find the president's advances enchanting, and who will not remain silent about them, ala Paula Jones.
Yet knowing all this, Clinton has apparently been unable to hold his libido in check, in the process diminishing the office he holds and turning himself into the perpetual butt of Jay Leno and David Letterman's jokes.
Kennedy's judgment was so clouded that he saw no problem in sharing a mistress with a leading mob boss. Can we be confident that Clinton's is not similarly affected and that decisions potentially involving tens of thousands of lives, such as that to bomb Iraq, will not be influenced by the need to distract attention from his romantic travails.
And what finally is revealed by our rush to forgive Clinton? Our eagerness to be easy on him partakes of our own desire to view ourselves as good fellows without devoting much effort to actually becoming good people.
Young, handsome, and concerned, Clinton has grown used to the forgiveness that we readily grant him in the hope that we too will not be challenged to improve our character.
Related Topics: Jewish Ethics
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