Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ The Assumptions

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

May 10, 1998

Posted to HotWired 10 May 98

Jon Katz's column shares with many other commentators two disturbing assumptions:

  • First, that his accusers have, in the main, told the truth, and
  • Second, given that the accounts are true, they reveal an immorality so deep that Clinton needs to seek professional help.
The first point - still open to debate - has been hashed about enough. I won't duplicate the dialogue here, except to suggest that commentators ought to at least reflect in their columns the fact that none of this is proven, and that the president continues to deny all.

But let's suppose that the president has for his entire career sought the affections of young women. Suppose he has historically sneaked into the oval office for a wee nookie between state functions.

So what?

Let's compare this immorality with that of some other presidents. Consider the following list of presidential acts over the last few decades:

  • Dropping atomic bombs on two major cities,
  • Bringing the world to the edge of nuclear holocaust over Cuba,
  • Covertly bombing a neutral Cambodia,
  • Bugging the Democratic National Convention,
  • Covertly dealing with Iran to supply arms to a terrorist organization.
And so on.

In comparison, the president's dalliances pale to insignificance. No weapons of mass destuction were employed. No lives were lost or even significantly disrupted (except at the hands of the prosecutor).

Yes, it is true, that from a certain moral perspective, the president's acts were immoral. They broke one of the ten commandments. But that said, they appear to have broken none of the country's laws and are acts which are duplicated by thousands of men every day.

Jon Katz wants a dream speech? Mine would run something like this:

Members of the press,

Many of you have for some time now investigated every aspect of what you believe to be my immoral behaviour. You have demanded details of all aspects of my sexual activity during and prior to my presidency.

Were any other person involved, your actions would be considered, at best, rude, and most likely, illegal.

Whether, with whom, how, and how often I have sex is, quite frankly, none of your damn business. Nor is it the business of the American people. A person - any person - is entitled to a certain amount of privacy.

Some of you accuse me of being unfaithful to my wife. While I continue to deny this, let me remind you as well, that this is a mater between myself and Hillary. The state of my marriage is, again, none of your business.

In the interests of the American people, I would urge you now to conduct your profession with honour and with dignity. Instead of practising tabloid journalism, go to the American people and investigate the more pressing problems of our day.

I urge you, ladies and gentlemen of the press, to venture beyond the White House into the streets of DC to see for yourself the poverty, the homelessness, and the random violence on our streets today.

I urge you to ask of the American people the hard questions, questions like, why so many Americans have no health care, why so many Americans turn to crack and heroin as their only hope, why so many Americans drop out of school.

These are the great issues of the day. And there are many more such great issues. And, let me remind you again, my sex life is not one of them.

Thank you.

Such a speech, Jon, would touch many more chords than your "I'm sick and I need help" speech. Don't you think?

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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