Clinton scandal reveals deeper schism in American society

There is a unique joy that comes from the misfortune of those you dislike. This perverse pleasure is discovered sometime in early childhood, at which time an individual learns that he can increase his own joy by inflicting suffering on perceived enemies. This cruelty is perfected throughout junior high until somewhere around the sophomore year in high school, when the destruction of others is practiced with unrestrained, orgiastic fervor. After that point we realize the shameful inhumanity of such behavior and practice it with less frequency into adulthood. Unfortunately our political leaders have recently regressed to an adolescent low.

I never liked Bill Clinton. While I hesitate to affiliate myself with either political party, I will admit I derived great delight from his public humiliation. It was really fun for a few months. Then it got old. Then I became ashamed. I may have voted for Dole, but Clinton is still my president. The whole country has been degraded by this scandal, and now the “politics of personal destruction” threaten to disgrace our nation further.

Politics is not supposed to be friendly. I know it is a dirty business, plagued by rivalry and calumny. But I always thought there was supposed to be a semblance of dignity about the whole thing. There will always be opposing parties, winners and losers; that is the lifeblood of a healthy government. But above all there should be respect for the institution, and that entails not rejoicing in the degradation of the opposition. Exposing irrelevant scandals should not be a viable political tactic.

Now I love Larry Flynt, just like Milos Forman taught me too. I don’t think he is to blame for disgraceful political behavior. He is just an angry pornographer, denouncing the hypocrisy of our times. Larry Flynt, tabloid media and the scandals they reveal are only relevant when the nation is deluded into thinking that such matters have a place in national affairs. They don’t.

I am convinced that the American people are divided into three groups: those who keep their personal embarrassments to themselves, those who parade their indignity on daytime TV and those who find their private business displayed on the covers of supermarket weeklies. As long as the individual does not do something profoundly disturbing (and as long as he doesn’t break the law) a competent politician (who is not too dependent on support from the right-wing Christian coalition) can often survive a public scandal. I’m from Massachusetts; I should know.

Our senior senator, Ted Kennedy, is plagued by numerous disgraces. His opposition (and hopefully, his conscience) relentlessly reminds him of that one haunting word: Chappaquiddick. Representative Barney Frank (the self-proclaimed “go-to guy on genitalia” in the Clinton ordeal) still gets re-elected, even after that little matter of a “roommate” running a male prostitution ring out of his apartment.

The only reason Monicagate is grinding the government to a halt, rather than merely fueling late night comedy, is that Bill Clinton seems to have broken a law. You can argue that the impeachment trial is just about sex, but the problem is that it isn’t just about sex. If it was only a scandal, public opinion polls indicate that the country would gladly let the whole thing blow over. Disgraceful behavior can be dismissed, but the constitution requires that illegal acts be handled a little more systematically.

A great man (whose good name I will not sully by further connecting it to our national embarrassment) has said in regard to the Clinton scandal, “America, you are better than this.” Unfortunately, this statement is probably incorrect. Still, we should strive to meet such high expectations. We should want, as a country, to rise above the level of adolescent blood sport.

It may be fun to watch an enemy go down. Or we may feel a great yearning for vengeance when it is our own misfortune being celebrated. But in the end, I hope our politicians realize that we are all on the same side. Our nation deserves a little more respect.

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