More on the Clinton Crisis

The many facets of the president's problem have inspired remarkable numbers of opinion submissions. Some of the most interesting are excerpted today on this page.

The Pornographic Media

This investigation is destroying the common understanding of decency, of the proper limits of public discussion, on which a democratic society must depend for the survival of its liberty.

President Clinton was very wrong to want to personalize his public office to the extent he did. It has been his greatest failure. Yet the independent counsel - armed as he is with the full force of inquisitorial powers - was doubly wrong to take the invitation to cross private with public concerns.

And what have the mass media contributed toward public enlightenment? By their relentless concentration on the president, and their speculation about how much he should confess to the American people, in what words and in what tone to speak those words, they have gone further still than the office of the independent counsel to represent the political issue as a personal one.

Our affection for each other as friends, our toleration of each other as neighbors, and our mutual responsibility as citizens depend on our not being interested in knowing every private thing.

But the line between public and private now seems invisible or unimportant to the office of the independent counsel. A sense of ordinary shame and decency has been bred out of the collective character of the national media.

David Bromwich

Director of Yale University's Whitney Humanities Center

Disconnect in Logic

It is erroneous to argue that what is required by law - or necessary - cannot occur unless polls show public opinion agrees. Would Lincoln have issued the Emancipation Proclamation if a consensus of favorable public opinion was first needed? Would FDR have helped Winston Churchill and Great Britain in 1940? Would we have started integrating schools in the 1950s, had it been required that public opinion support it?

Gordon K. Durnil

Indiana Republican activist

No Confidence Vote

Is there an alternative in the future? We should adopt the parliamentary practice of a congressional vote of no confidence. In parliamentary democracies, votes of no confidence aren't unusual - they aren't traumatic, and they are not drawn out.

A no-confidence vote doesn't depend on proof of a crime; it can be offered because of a declining economy or foreign-policy failures. It is a statement that the legislative branch lacks confidence in the ability of the executive to provide the leadership the office requires.

A vote of no confidence results in a new election in which the incumbent executive can run. The legislature doesn't remove the executive from office; it only forces the executive to stand before the electorate.

Ted Rueter

Minnesota Democratic activist

Sexual Harassment

Although some may take the position that consentual sex is a private matter and of no concern to the legitimacy of Clinton's or any presidency, it seems that a basic point is overlooked. Can sex between a person in a position of clear authority and a subordinate be understood as consensual?

Many universities, corporations, and public agencies have expended considerable effort drafting sexual harassment policies. Many of these policies clearly prohibit sexual relations between superior and subordinate. The obvious and immutable power differential in such associations is automatically assumed to make consent by the subordinate all but impossible.

Consider a university president who works with an intern assigned to his or her office to learn about higher education administration. What would happen if this president engaged in an affair with the intern? Even if truthful when asked about the relationship, he or she would be out of a job. The same would occur in many corporate offices if an executive behaved similarly. In these situations, it wouldn't matter if the intern had consented because of the obvious differential in power.

Susette Talarico

University of Georgia political science professor

The Confusion of Our Times

"It is all a sexual matter," Alan Dershowitz insisted on Larry King Live. Clinton keeps insisting it was not a sexual relationship. And Monica Lewinsky confessed to the grand jury it was love. Congress, on the other hand, is contemplating impeachment for obstruction of justice and perjury. The woman and the man on the street are split: His private life has nothing to do with his performance as president of the country, he lied to the American people and therefore he should resign from office.

If we can't agree about what constitutes a sexual relationship, if the private sphere has become public, and the public has lost its autonomy, then we can't agree on anything. And if we can't agree on anything, everything is possible.

The private lives of our presidents could have been saintly or sinful but they always remained separate. Now this separation has been obliterated, the church and state are no longer separate. The private has become public.

The Clinton crisis is a sign of the uncertainty of our world and times. The most obvious: Sex is no longer determined by mode of performance or legal status. High crimes and misdemeanors are not treason and corruption but hallway trysts. Things are blending into each other and losing their place and function. Our world has become so fluid and splintered, so fragmented that the affair between Clinton and Lewinsky has become a theology of our times - as complex as determining how many angels can stand on the head of a pin. We can agree only to disagree.

Marshall Blonsky

Wolfson Fellow at the New School in New York City

Edmundo Desnoes

New York City novelist and screenwriter

The Truth About Lies

Who are we to judge whether a lie is moral or immoral? It's not wise to be dishonest with oneself, and suffer the emotional and spiritual tension that accompanies a lie. But, we believe that there are many cases where it is good to lie.

We know a woman whose parents escaped into France from Nazi Germany. They were hiding in an abandoned house in a village, surrounded by Nazis. The woman's mother slipped out and went to the village doctor and asked him to order an ambulance to take them to the next town.

He asked if they were sick, and she said no. He said: "I can't ask for an ambulance because no one is sick; it would be a lie." The woman responded: "Look, at it this way: We're not sick, society is."

The doctor ordered the ambulance, and saved the lives of the couple. From our current perspective, he found morality through that lie - he journeyed to a higher moral plain.

There are two parts to every lie: the making of the lie, and the judging of the lie. We need to look at each and every lie in a political, cultural, and historical context, to use moderation of judgment, and to realize that a lie may not always be what it seems.

Nadine Epstein

Washington, D.C., writer

Michael M. Epstein

Syracuse University public communications professor

Gutenberg Revisited

After seeing the Starr report on the Internet and Clinton's videotaped grand jury testimony on CNN, it became clear to me just how easy it is to manipulate the democratic process with today's electronic media.

It may be useful to revisit the Gutenberg Effect. Starting in the 15th century, the printing press and movable type rapidly increased the spread of knowledge. The mass production of printed materials sired the Reformation, nearly destroyed the Roman Catholic Church, touched off a mighty cultural revolution, created the middle class, undermined Europe's feudal hierarchy of aristocracy and church, stirred the first currents of democracy, and launched the great migration to the New World.

Today, time itself is being overthrown by the commercial telecommunications revolution. The electron, exploited by its masters, gives no time to digest content. "Instancy" challenges sound judgment.

Reason, the handmaiden of democracy, is overwhelmed.

Jerry M. Landay

Former ABC and CBS news correspondent

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