When Sexual Conduct Isn't Private
Supporters of President Clinton are pinning their hopes on an outcome that would confirm "only" that the president committed adultery with a woman of his daughter's age group, but no federal crimes, such as obstruction of justice. In that case, they pray, it might be possible to resort to the obligatory "so what?!" defense and assert that the president's actions behind closed doors are none of our concern.
But this is one verdict that will not be decided in a court of law, by opinion polls, or even through a national referendum. The verdict has been rendered by the experience, the conclusion, the lesson of thousands of years with painful monotony: Persons who carry serious public responsibility can engage in sexually licentious behavior only at their peril. The reasons are three: accessibility, blackmailability, and judgment.
The first is accessibility. A subject who will avail himself of pleasure wherever he happens to find it, is accessible because those who want access to him-friend or foe-can engineer tempting opportunities. The loss of control that attends the sex act suspends normal caution, both with respect to documents which may be around, and to information that needs to be handled with discretion. Discretion is the first casualty when indiscretion is being committed.
The second is blackmailability. Again friend or foe, anyone in possession of information that can cause the subject to fall from office, or worse, has an ongoing hold over the subject, and thus leverage in his decision-making process. As distinct from private blackmail-which usually ends in the extortion of money-blackmailing someone of major public responsibility can end in substantial damage to the public interest. Because of the dependency of the subject upon the goodwill of those who "know," policy decisions can be influenced by persons neither elected nor visible. It is bad enough if the person with hidden leverage is a friend. History reports plenty of instances in which the leverage was obtained by hostile foreign powers.
Third and most importantly, sexual indiscretions reflect upon the judgment of the subject. An adult who cannot resist a sexual urge is not in control of himself. An adult who is not deterred by the inappropriateness and the risk of his impending action is not thinking clearly. An adult who fails to perceive the inappropriateness and the risk of his impending action is immature. The age-old preference for older leaders never was an act of prejudice against youth. It merely took account of the reality that the younger the person, the more difficult to resist the temptations of the body. It was assumed that, after a certain age has been attained, the head would prevail.
Those who still disagree, might ponder this: How are we to look upon the president's affairs as private if he is incapable of keeping them private?
The primary reason for doing away with hereditary rulers was to ensure public accountability. King Charles II had women funneled to him for his pleasure, but this country decided that its head of state should serve at The People's pleasure. As well as the qualifications articulated in the Constitution, behavior of a certain kind has been expected of persons who have claimed to be worthy of high office.
The history of politicians, of statesmen, speaks of countless resignations as a result of deeds committed or words spoken. Many resigned simply because of the appearance of impropriety. During the centuries when our standards of conduct met minimum requirements, statesmen around the world would resign for a fraction of what has occurred during Mr. Clinton's presidency. Since 1993, standards of public conduct have deteriorated at a rate not known before.
Deterioration is evident also in the public discourse. While the facts have yet to be ascertained, the president's supporters-both politicians and media employees-are already engaged in a campaign to impugn everyone who is in possession of the facts. There is marked contrast between the measured, civilized tone of those who are branded as "the president's enemies," and the frantic hate speech of many of the president's supporters.
Someone on a weekend talk show adapted Vice President Al Gore's memorable "defense," coining the phrase "No controlling moral authority." The phrase is a timely reminder of the ultimate crisis facing this nation. America finds itself in a situation where the alternative to a president with no controlling moral authority is one with "no controlling legal authority."
God help this great country and its good people to survive, as they always have, the damage that is being done to them.