A Pathetic Speech And
Washington Post, Wednesday, August 19, 1998; Page A21
Well, now we know exactly what it takes to get our president to approach the act of telling the truth: a federal prosecutor and a posse of deputy prosecutors, a grand jury, the Supreme Court, the confession of his chief co-conspirator, the testimony of a couple of dozen other witnesses, the urging of his lawyers and his advisers, the ministering of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and, one assumes, the possession by the FBI of conclusive physical evidence.
Bill Clinton went on television Monday night and admitted that he had "misled people," and had given "a false impression" in his seven months of public denial of a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Because, you see, he did, actually, "have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate." And, actually, this was not a good thing to have done: "In fact, it was wrong." And Clinton was "solely and completely responsible" for it.
Certainly true. You see, the president really sort of did give a false impression when, on Jan. 26, he wagged a scolding finger and said: "I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I'm going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." He really kind of did mislead people when he lied under oath, lied on camera, lied in private, lied in public, lied to the nation, lied to his wife, lied to his friends, lied to his Cabinet, lied to his staff, lied to his party, lied to the world, and sent out his staff and surrogates to lie on his lying behalf.
And, now that he mentions it, I guess our Bill really did do something a little bit wrong in exploiting a silly and star-struck young female employee as a sexual service station. And he maybe shouldn't have encouraged his girlfriend to join him in perjury. And he maybe also shouldn't have obliged Vernon Jordan and Bill Richardson and Betty Currie and Bruce Lindsey and the rest of the gang to help him hide his bit of Oval Office fun.
And it probably wasn't the perfectly moral thing, knowing that he was lying through his teeth, for the president to countenance a long and vicious campaign by his henchmen to savage those who were telling the truth. And it wasn't 100 percent appropriate to force all those innocent people to suffer through grand jury inquisition, and to trash the presidency, and to make fools out of Al Gore and Madeleine Albright and Paul Begala and James Carville and Mike McCurry and Ann Lewis and everyone else who insisted for seven months that the perjurer-in-chief was telling the truth. And, oh yes, groping Kathleen Willey when she came to the Oval Office to ask for a job was probably not a good thing to do. Maybe it wasn't right to lie about that also, and to sic the smear team on Kathy. Ditto Paula, ditto Gennifer. Sorry about all that.
No, not really. Our Bill has never really apologized for anything in his life, and he didn't now. He never used the words "I'm sorry," and he acknowledged "regret" only glancingly and euphemistically. Indeed, as he made quite clear, he wasn't sorry, except, as all adolescents are, for getting caught. His passing imitation of an apology lasted for all of one sentence. By contrast, he devoted nearly nine full paragraphs to offering excuses for his actions, to once again attacking Ken Starr and to urging that the mess he had created be put aside -- without, of course, any punishment for himself. The poor boy, he let us know, has suffered enough. This speech wasn't a mea culpa. It was an everybody-else culpa. It was an insult. It was pathetic.
And it was a lie. Even in confessing his lying, Clinton lied. He said that, in the Paula Jones deposition that started it all, he had given answers that were "legally accurate," but that he did not "volunteer information." What he was referring to was his answer to one question about sex with Lewinsky -- sex as defined in narrow and confusing terms by a legalistic definition. In denying sex-as-defined, he may have managed to stay just barely inside the borders of what was "legally accurate." But Clinton was also asked a question in which sex was described in commonly understood language, not in legalese: "Did you have an extramarital sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky?" To this, the president simply and perjuriously replied: "No."
This man will never stop lying. To borrow a hyperbolic description of another of the century's historic prevaricators, every word he utters is a lie, including "and" and "the." He will lie till the last dog dies.
Michael Kelly is a senior writer for