It was 10 years ago this week that any remaining faith I had in the American political system began to make a gurgling noise in the drain. On Jan. 17, 1998, President Bill Clinton testified under oath in a sexual-harassment lawsuit that he had not had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
It was 10 years ago this week that any remaining faith I had in the American political system began to make a gurgling noise in the drain.
On Jan. 17, 1998, President Bill Clinton testified under oath in a sexual-harassment lawsuit that he had not had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
The next day, Matt Drudge reported on his Web site that Newsweek had killed a story alleging a Clinton-Lewinsky sexual relationship, unleashing the best-known political scandal of the 1990s.
But the most disturbing part, the part that pulled the plug on the above-mentioned faith, wasn't the sexual misconduct by the president, repulsive as that turned out to be.
It was the lying, and the attempts to get others to lie, and the reaction to the lies, which was a nationwide yawn.
OK, so lies are part of American politics. Campaign promises go unfulfilled or contradicted. Legislation probably couldn't get passed if a few false promises about support for others' bills weren't offered. In "Master of the Senate," biographer Robert Caro writes thoroughly about Lyndon Johnson's manipulative prevarications.
But lying is also an assault on another person. It is taking their trust and spitting on it. It is a rape of respect.
I understand why Clinton lied. He was ashamed of his infidelity; that's a good thing. Lying, however, is a bad thing. Lying under oath is a crime.
But a decade ago, while most of the nation, including the Journal Star editorial page, was yawning and demanding Congress get back to the work of running the country and put this silly impeachment stuff aside, I was trying to figure out how it all kept escalating.
Actually, I knew how it all kept escalating, but it seemed too obvious to be true. Clinton wouldn't 'fess up. I thought he would do so quickly after the story first broke, or at least offer a plausible explanation for what had happened. Or just say he was sorry and put an end to the whole thing. A few days after the story broke, he had promised to address the matter "sooner rather than later."
Later never happened.
Like Richard Nixon, he just wanted to deny everything. And when he was forced to concede something, he did so reluctantly and continued to deny everything else - until he had to concede the next thing.
The gurgling sound nearly drowned out Clinton's television address following his testimony to a grand jury on Aug. 17, 1998. That night, I thought, he would put it all to rest. Come clean. How could he not?
Then the American people would forgive him, and we'd do the clichéd thing of moving on.
Instead, the president made some vague admissions about an affair, and then spent the majority of the address attacking Independent Counsel Ken Starr.
The next several months didn't help matters. I agreed with most pundits who argued that impeachment was overkill for what Clinton was accused of doing. But I also thought the House Judiciary Committee's hands were tied. It was apparent that he had committed a crime, the House of Representatives had a job to do under the Constitution, and the president wouldn't back down, no matter how many opportunities he was given to gracefully excuse himself and end the whole thing.
After the farce of the Senate "trial," conducted Jan. 7-Feb. 12, 1999, I made like Bill Blazejowski in "Night Shift" and washed my hands and my feet of politics.
The "hanging chad" election of 2000 and seven years of the George W. Bush administration hasn't helped, either.
I'm still following politics as a spectator. I have to in part for my job, but I also do so out of fascination with the manipulation of reality regularly practiced by politicians and the willingness of American voters to buy into it.
I know I'm on the extreme side of cynicism, and I wish I wasn't.
But that gurgling sound happened, and so far I can't undo it.
Michael Miller covers religion for the Journal Star. Write to him in care of the Journal Star, 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call him at 686-3106, or send e-mail to email@example.com. Comments may be published.