Response to "Sunlight On A Shadow World"
Sunday, August 29, 2004
by Daryle Hendricksen
NOTE: Mr. Berg-Andersson, who edits and responds to submissions to this site's 'vox Populi' page, was away for two weeks beginning on Sunday 15 August. He has now returned and is currently in the process of posting 'vox Populi's submitted while he was away. The following 'vox Populi' was submitted to 'The Green Papers' on 18 August 2004:
You haven't heard from me in a little while, but after reading your 13 August Commentary concerning Governor McGreevey's resignation (and a related opinion about former President Bill Clinton), I felt that I had something to add to the subject.
Let me start by listing a few select quotes from your piece, so that one can see where I'm heading with this:
1) "Was President Clinton's involvement with Ms. Lewinsky unseemly? Yes. But was it- in and of itself- a violation of President Clinton's oath of office? No!"
2) "If Monica Lewinsky had been, say, a lobbyist for a group of insurance companies and President Clinton was, say, shaping Federal policy on health care to the benefit of said insurance companies in exchange for her sexual favors, then their affair would have risen to the level of an impeachable offense."
3) "I am fully prepared to learn that there was some sort of compromise of his Gubernatorial oath involved (a government job for his lover, perhaps?-- or some other similar political favor?). "
I would first like to point out that I do appreciate the fact that you understand that the REAL issue about President Clinton was about his lying under oath, not about his having an affair with an intern. I have argued with a very good friend of mine about this for quite some time (a friend who also happens to be a very big Bill Clinton fan), and I have never really been able to break that barrier with him. I tend to get the same arguments that "technically" he was telling the "truth" and that it was "just about sex" anyway.
On the whole, I do agree with you on the first quote above, that in and of itself the affair does not constitute a violation of the oath of office. Outside of lying under oath, though, there are a couple of other issues that I'd like to address:
1) You point out that Ms. Lewinsky was a "consenting adult", not a "child". While that may be true, I would also like to point out that she was a White House intern. As an intern, I feel that she should be afforded the same level of respect as, for example, a college student. Certainly, if a college Professor, Dean, or President were to have an affair with a 21 year old student, and it became public, there would be various ethical issues to address. It would matter very little that the student was a "consenting adult". What would matter would be the fact that the "student-teacher" trust was violated. I believe that the same *should* apply to the President of the United States, or any other high level White House official (or any other level or branch of Government)! Young women serving as White House interns should not be taken advantage of! Regardless of age, there is no way you can call an intern a President's peer! There may be no ethical "rules" or "guidelines" governing this kind of behavior now, but maybe there should be! If I had a 21 year old daughter serving as an intern in the White House or at a major corporation, I would hope that I could depend on the Chief Executive not to try to take advantage of her! Of course, I would also hope that I raised her well enough to repel such an advance, but I would still not want her to find herself in that situation in the first place!
2) Looking at the second quote above, you are certainly correct that it would be wrong for a high level official (such as the President) to accept bribery in any form, be it money, power, or sexual favors. But what about blackmail? Certainly, President Clinton's ex-lover, Ms. Lewinsky *could* have become a lobbyist for a special interest group. She *could* have then used her former relationship with him to blackmail him! While this may not have actually happened with Ms. Lewinsky, how many other women did President Clinton sleep with? Could he have been blackmailed at some other point during his eight years in office? This is speculation, but my point is not whether or not he *was* blackmailed. My point is that President Clinton put himself in a position where he *could* have been blackmailed. Any time a President does something he "shouldn't" be doing, whether it be an affair, drugs, overdrinking, or whatever, he is putting himself in a compromising position. I don't think that it's a good thing for the "leader of the free world" to put himself into that sort of position. Again, this might not be an "impeachable offence" (Presidents are human, after all, and we can never expect them to be *perfect*), but it is something to consider. What should we expect from our President by way of morality? At what point should a President's "personal behavior" become impeachable?
3) This brings us to the nightmare scenario where a high level official *is* actually blackmailed. Let's talk about New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, and your third quote above. By this point you have no doubt read the unsavory details about the man who brought James McGreevey down (an excellent article about the whole scandal can be found in the Star Ledger: http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-17/109257931474440.xml). I won't go into all of the details here, but the most damning of them is the fact that his alleged gay lover (Golan Cipel), on January 15th, 2002, was appointed the position of his homeland security advisor. How anyone (Democrat, Republican, whatever) could appoint a completely unqualified individual to this highly sensitive and critically important post is completely beyond me! The man was paid $110,000 per year from New Jersey taxpayers, and, being a foreigner, could not even get a security clearance to be briefed by the FBI and Secret Service on matters of security!
Why did McGreevey appoint him to this sensitive post? Was it just a personal favor for his lover? Was he being blackmailed back then? The article does not have an answer for that. We do know, however, that the confession came out because Golan Cipel was seeking six million dollars plus a political favor in exchange for *not* filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against McGreevey. Luckily (for the people of New Jersey), McGreevey balked and decided to confess and resign. It is certainly looking as if McGreevey's actions would be considered "impeachable" by any definition. But the real problem isn't that McGreevey was blackmailed, but rather that McGreevey *put himself into a position to be blackmailed*! *That* is the problem that exists at the core of any discussion of morality in politics. I believe that it is important that, going forward, we must come up with some set of ethics guidelines for our politicians! It's not that their personal lives are really any business of ours. It's not that our leaders should expected to be "perfect". But rather that, as citizens, we should be able to expect our leaders (Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal) to WORK JUST AS HARD TO STAY OUT OF COMPROMISING SITUATIONS AS THEY DID TO OBTAIN OUR VOTES IN THE FIRST PLACE!
Thanks for your time. I tried to keep my message non-partisan because this is a problem that is going to continue to affect our nation and it is a problem that exists for both parties. Although the subjects (McGreevey and Clinton) both happen to be Democrats I am not trying to imply that this is only a problem with them in particular or with Democrats in general.
Mr. Berg-Andersson responds:
Mr. Hendricksen has, as usual, made good points very worthy of being well taken. It is very clear where he agrees with me and where he disagrees with me, therefore I will only make the following comments in response to what he has written above:
As regards Mr. Hendricksen's point 1.:
It is my understanding, as I now recall the events that sparked the Impeachment Crisis of 1998, that it was Ms. Lewinsky who more or less went after President Clinton. Now might there have been less than complete innocence on Bill Clinton's part?-- that is: might President Clinton (expressing, however subtly or no, his own feelings towards Ms. Lewinsky's flirtations) have "egged her on" with a smile, a wink, a nod or, perhaps, some other gesture that caused Ms. Lewinsky (given said little hint that she might even be successful in her seeking a closer relationship with him) to "up the ante" in her own flirtation with the President? Like Mr. Hendricksen, I am speculating here when I answer my own question with the words "Quite likely".
Nevertheless, even assuming such however subtle encouragement by President Clinton, Ms. Lewinsky was hardly "taken advantage of". A well star-struck young lady, yes she was-- but she was also someone who, at least legally (I will not here even dare to speculate about the psychological/emotional maturity of mid-1990s Ms. Lewinsky!), was perfectly capable of making up her own mind as to with whom she wanted to be sexual and, assuming it WAS she who willingly sought out that personal relationship with President Clinton which eventually evolved into a sexual encounter, she cannot at all evade her own responsibility for what thereafter transpired. It is, therefore, most unfair to paint Bill Clinton as having been the moral equivalent of a child molester, as many who were on the 'Impeach Clinton' side of the political equation sought, at the time, to do (one has to also wonder what the anti-Clintonians' opinion of the social status of women who have already attained the age of majority might have actually been!).
As for Mr. Hendricksen's call for ethical rules governing the above situation, I agree with him that there should be some, though I would also have to wonder what agency of governance could enforce same against a sitting President of the United States. Until and unless there is some kind of criminal sanction (a Federal statute prohibiting such behavior [with a clear risk of a fine- or even imprisonment- involved], perhaps?) against a President engaging in a sexual dalliance with a White House employee, there is no really effective legal sanction against this; there remains only the politicolegal sanction of Impeachment and Removal and I am still not all that sure that this is an appropriate, let alone effective, vehicle in the vast majority of such cases (though I do think that Impeachment without Removal- the actual result of the Impeachment Trial of President Clinton- was the best possible outcome all told: Removal would have been much too harsh a punishment, yet something had to be done- even if it be a mere "rap on the knuckles" by Dame History).
In the end, we are left- as with many other issues in a free society such as ours- to moral and ethical choices made by the individuals involved to be the main "control" on such behavior. I myself always had the rule, in my own dating life, to never get romantically involved with a co-worker: not that I ever expected to be the progenitor- or, for that matter, a victim- of sexual harassment, mind you! I just didn't think it was a very good idea (what, for instance, if one of the people in the relationship was fired at the same time the other person was shown favor by the company? how might that potentially create difficulty in a romantic relationship?), though I have had friends and acquaintances who have dated their co-workers (even including bosses who have become romantically involved with their underlings), building and growing romantic relationships that seemed, at least to me (not knowing, of course, what goes on behind the proverbial "closed doors"), to work out fine.
But what might be good for others is not necessarily good for me! Likewise, what might be good for me might not necessarily be the best option for others. Each person has to make his or own choices- indeed, is free to do so- so long as that person then accepts responsibility for the consequences of those choices. As it is for all the rest of us, so it is for politicians.
As for point 2.:
I am not the biggest fan of laws that seek to punish behavior that could happen: to me such laws are anathema to a free society. If such a society seeks to prevent a crime, it always has the option of making behavior that might lead to this crime a lesser crime in and of itself (take the case of drunk driving, for example: we attempt to prevent the greater crime of vehicular manslaughter by making driving while intoxicated [even without a drunk driver hitting and killing somebody] a crime subject to a lesser punishment than vehicular manslaughter)-- but a free society does not allow, say, the police to willy-nilly arrest people window-shopping in front of a jewelry store simply on grounds that a jewelry heist might well have been prevented!
Yes, President Clinton could have been blackmailed in future by a lobbyist Monica Lewinsky were she to have become one. However, a truly free society can't (or, at least, shouldn't) punish what might have happened. Mr. Hendricksen is, therefore, right to note that what could have happened as a result of the Clinton/Lewinsky affair does not at all raise it to the level of an impeachable offense.
As for any other women with whom Bill Clinton might have been intimately involved and who might have actually blackmailed him while he was still serving as President---
if such blackmail- indeed- happened, then that's a very damaging thing to America to have happened... but, by 2004, we're already well into the succeeding Administration.
I will only note the following before closing my response to Mr. Hendricksen's 'vox Populi':
I have received more than a few (though, in the end, surprisingly few) e-mails over the some five years 'The Green Papers' has been on the World Wide Web from people accusing me of trying to get them to think a certain way (in other words, my way!) in my Commentaries and responses to 'vox Populi'. Nothing could be further from the truth (and, since these e-mails always seem to be from people who strongly disagree with me, I would have to assume that- even if I were trying to "convert" 'The Green Papers' users over to my viewpoint- I would largely be unsuccessful in any event!). As I have already stated, in a different context earlier in this very response: "what might be good for others is not necessarily good for me! Likewise, what might be good for me might not necessarily be the best option for others."
If an American voter wishes to take into account the personal behavior of a candidate for President of the United States (or any other elective office, for that matter [and whether or not the candidate is an incumbent]) as said voter weighs the merits of two or more candidates for that office before casting his or her vote, there is nothing at all wrong with this. One is certainly free to vote for- or, for that matter, against- a candidate for elective office based on how that candidate is perceived re: dealing with the personal issues Mr. Hendricksen himself mentioned: "an affair, drugs, overdrinking, or whatever"; then again, one is also free to vote for or against a political candidate solely based on, say, the color of the shoes they might be wearing at a campaign rally!
Each voter, assuming that that voter is a concerned citizen who is voting intelligently, has to bring his or her own moral and ethical values (and what those values might also say about the values one expects of a candidate seeking that precious vote) into the voting booth with him or her. If you don't care what a politician does in the privacy of the bedroom or in front of the home liquor cabinet, then this is not at all going to factor into your choice come Election Day; if you do care about such things, then it clearly will- indeed, must! But every voter is, of course, free to care or not care, as the case may be. In my own case, as I have already noted in that 13 August Commentary: "I care little about a politician's most personal- by which I here specifically mean sexual- behavior, whether I happen to be a supporter of that particular politician or no. If others among my fellow citizens wish to care- even deeply- about such things, they are certainly free to do so and I most certainly respect their right to do so".
I truly hope that those who happen to read my Commentaries or responses to 'vox Populi' such as this one well understand that I am not at all writing these things in order to get the reader to come around to my own viewpoint. At most, I am merely trying to stimulate fair debate on those topics about which I might write. However, if someone out there might still think I am trying to "convert" him or her to opinions of mine which he or she may well disdain, please continue to think so and, furthermore, feel most free to tell others who might share your belief about this alleged "conspiracy"--
after all, 'The Green Papers' could always use more hits! ;-)