Clinton’s Non-Apology

Lucas Morel

August 1, 1998

Where to begin? President Clinton finally admitted to the American people what they already suspected: his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky was “not appropriate,” and his previous statements about it “misled people.” Not content to testify before the grand jury and let the legal chips fall where they may, he delivered a five-minute address to the nation as a preemptive strike against whatever Independent Counsel Ken Starr eventually reports to Congress. Leaving aside the issue of perjury, we pause to consider if the long overdue presidential explanation really squares things with the American people.

Granted, the president spoke of taking “responsibility” as well as putting things “right.” But while the presidential office demands responsibility to a higher degree than any other branch of government, Clinton divested “responsibility” of any political significance by accepting blame for a wrong while offering no recompense for the damage done to the public trust. Recall that a few days after his January deposition in the Paula Jones sexual-harassment suit, Clinton told a Capitol Hill newspaper that his relationship with Monica Lewinsky “was not improper” and “not sexual.” His recent claim that his then-private deposition answers were “legally accurate” belies various public statements made at that time to the press and hence to the American people.

Sure, he claims he is “prepared to do whatever it takes” to repair the injury to his wife and daughter. But this only serves to mischaracterize the scandal as a strictly private concern–“It’s nobody’s business but ours”–, thereby shifting the focus away from his public deception. Strange apology, this presidential confession that draws public attention to the very aspect of the scandal that should remain private–his obligation to make amends with his family.

It’s a sign of this president’s inability to distinguish the personal from the political that he complains of having to apologize to his family in front of the American people, when it stems from his own refusal to deal with his abuse of the public trust. This is now very much the American people’s business, Mr. President, for you made it so.

As for his claim that the independent counsel’s investigation “has gone on too long, cost too much and hurt too many innocent people,” this was just another attempt to shift the nation’s attention away from his culpability–the very reason for addressing the nation. Muddling his public apology with a counter-charge against the independent counsel was not only disingenuous, but subversive of the rule of law. What must be kept in mind is that Ken Starr is merely fulfilling his duty as a duly appointed independent counsel. Just ask Clinton’s Attorney General, Janet Reno, who has had to approve Starr’s actions every step of the way. Care to guess what president signed the BILL to extend the duration of the independent counsel statute?!

And with eleven guilty pleas and three convictions to date, the investigation has not exactly come up empty-handed and Starr has yet to report his findings on obstruction of justice by the president. Clinton’s attempts to delay and derail the successful prosecution of the investigation, through repeated refusals to testify before the grand jury and various claims of executive and protective privilege, force the conclusion that he is most responsible for this tawdry, tiresome spectacle.

In Shakespeare’s Henry V, the king uncovers treason by his closest advisers, who then confess their guilt. All three conspirators expect to pay with their lives for their offense, but to their credit they acknowledge its justice and merely ask for the king’s personal forgiveness. Henry answers: “Touching our person, seek we no revenge,/But we our kingdom’s safety must so tender,/Whose ruin you have sought, that to her laws/We do deliver you.” If poll figures are to be believed, too many Americans are willing to forgive the president for his admission of wrongdoing, without expecting any further action on his part to make things right with them. As Shakespeare put it, “That’s mercy, but too much security. ” If our president will not resign as punishment for deceiving the American people, all the more reason for the investigation to proceed and a full report be made to Congress for their disposition of the matter.

The president claims it is time for the nation “to move on,” for we have “important work to do” and “real problems to solve.” He then asks us “to repair the fabric of our national discourse.” Alas, his national address only succeeded in dividing the nation even more, and with little hope of mending our way towards a resolution of the greatest American crisis since Watergate.

Lucas Morel is an Adjunct Fellow at the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University.