The Great Prevaricator
Each of you has undoubtedly seen the clips of Bill Clinton bushwhacking Chris Wallace in a Fox News interview last Sunday. Claiming that his interlocutor was doing “the bidding of the right wing,” Clinton lectured Wallace with the same finger-wagging intensity he unleashed on the American people back in 1998.
Clinton’s now-famous Lewinsky lie makes for an instructive comparison because it reminds us that this man, this former U.S. president, is a peerless prevaricator. “Clinton’s an unusually good liar,” said former Democrat Senator and Medal of Honor recipient Bob Kerrey. “Unusually good.”
Indeed. Even the New York Times once lamented Clinton’s “mysterious passion for lying” and for “lying about his lies.” And the liberal New Republic’s Andrew Sullivan noted, “From the beginning, Clinton has lied with indiscriminate abandon.” Given all this, why should we be surprised when, in a desperate attempt to repair his legacy, Clinton now erroneously claims to have done everything in his power to kill Osama bin Laden?
Clinton apologists have long insisted that he was distracted by the Lewinsky investigation at a time when his focus would have otherwise been on the increasing lethality of al-Qa'ida attacks against U.S. targets. Thus, they say, the Republicans were to blame. It was conservative Republicans, after all, who manufactured a public outcry, ultimately venting their contempt for the president with mean-spirited hearings and an ignominious impeachment. It was a “Republican prosecutor” who persecuted Clinton by digging into his amorous activities. Clinton argued that his “private life” is not a public matter, and went on to enlighten America on the semantics of the word “is.”
Contrary to Clinton’s claim, the alleged wall between a leader’s “private virtue” and his ability to act with “public virtue” is a fiction – and a dangerous one. Our nation’s Founders understood this truth from the beginning. As John Adams wrote to historian, poet and playwright Mercy Otis Warren – perhaps the most important woman of the Revolutionary era – in 1776, during America’s first war, “Public virtue cannot exist in a nation without private, and public virtue is the only foundation of republics.” Adams continued, “There must be a positive passion for the public good, the public interest, honour, power and glory, established in the minds of the people, or there can be no republican government, nor any real liberty: and this public passion must be superiour to all private passions.”
John Adams' cousin, Samuel Adams, agreed. Writing to fellow patriot James Warren, President of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, Revolutionary War general and husband of Mercy, he said, “Since private and publick Vices, are in Reality, though not always apparently, so nearly connected, of how much Importance, how necessary is it, that the utmost Pains be taken by the Publick, to have the Principles of Virtue early inculcated on the Minds even of children, and the moral Sense kept alive, and that the wise institutions of our Ancestors for these great Purposes be encouraged by the Government.” Sam Adams concluded that public virtue must be the foundation of public life, citizenship and leadership, “For no people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and Virtue is preservd. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauchd in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.”
Clearly, our Founders understood the inextricable connection between national security and the private virtue of a nation’s people and her leaders. Confronted with an enormous, looming threat on the horizon and uncertain of the nascent nation’s future, private virtue was foremost in these leaders' minds. Without it, they knew, they would “sink under their own weight,” British regulars – or Islamic fascists – notwithstanding.
How would these men react to Bill Clinton’s claims that criticisms of his “private life” distracted him from the execution of his public duties? Most certainly by concluding that this disgraced former president’s decadent private life was the distraction that precipitated his many derelictions of duty.
In fact, there would have been little distraction if Clinton had simply told the truth. For the Democrats' standard-bearer, however, the truth is whatever means serves his particular end. Clinton’s in-your-face denials were an invitation to investigate, and his stonewalling at every stage of the ensuing investigation was a profile in cowardice.
Contrary to Clinton’s claim that his vigorous denials were to protect his “private life,” he lied to protect his political fortunes. To admit that he’d sexually used an intern would have exposed his limitless hypocrisy – after all, Clinton fostered a pretentious image as a women’s liberationist, which is why “soccer moms,” his largest constituency, elected him twice.
An admission of truth would have lent substantial credibility to all the other accusations of sexual abuse prior to and during his presidency – claims which Clintonista confidant Betsey Wright, Deputy Chair of Clinton/Gore 1992, wrote off as “bimbo eruptions.”
If Sunday’s charade was any indication, the Great Prevaricator still has it in him to work his way around the truth. This latest foray into falsehood allows him to mend fences with liberal partisans while doing his wife’s dirty work in advance of her 2008 presidential bid. Perhaps this is just Bill’s way of making amends, but his penchant for prevarication will once again take its toll on the truth. As his former press secretary Mike McCurry once confessed, “The White House lies about everything; our credibility is zero.” Six years out of office, Bill Clinton is still taking his toll on the security of the nation he swore to defend.