I'm a political junkie. I'm always ready to debate the latest Washington debacle. Yet, on a recent Sunday I had to walk away from a discussion of current affairs—or, perhaps I should say, alleged affairs.
Picture this: a group of young conservative men in an after-Mass conversation. They were bursting with self-satisfaction. Euphoric. Tickled pink.
I had never seen them look so happy. The reason? The bad boy of Washington D.C.—Bill Clinton—is in hot water.
Clinton's alleged affair with a White House intern has caused joy all through Mudville. Somehow, though, it has not had the same effect on me.
We all knew that Clinton lacked moral virtue. Can this latest example, if the charges are true, be a surprise to anyone in America?
I assume that we all realized, even before Monica Lewinsky came on the scene, that America has sunk into a moral cesspool. Anyone claiming otherwise need only look at the movies coming out of Hollywood.
I'm guessing that we all realized that the majority of American women treat themselves as sex objects—and allow the men in their lives to do the same. Lewinsky's reported comments to friends about how she planned to succeed in D.C. could only confirm that conclusion.
Almost every person I encounter is shocked by the latest charges—and, almost everyone who voices an opinion also decries the “feeding frenzy” of the press.
Yet, somebody is consuming the enticing dishes the media is serving. CNN ratings nearly doubled during the weeks after the story broke. An ABC prime-time special on the controversy garnered higher ratings than NBC's ER.
Meet the Press ratings shot up by 50% when the story hit. Hillary Clinton's “stand by your man” appearance on the Today show won that program its second-highest ratings in a decade, and her visit to Good Morning America boosted ratings by 20%.
It seems that some people are enjoying every lurid detail coming out of Washington D.C.—no matter how much they claim otherwise.
I'm assuming that Catholic voters are having a more mature response. After all, we know that most people-including politicians—do, on occasion, sin. Some of us may have even committed one or two sins in our own lives, and been absolved by our generous Father.
Of course, Clinton's difficulty in recognizing and speaking the truth could pose a problem if he is seeking forgiveness. Repentance requires an honest admission—public or private—of our actions.
While the public may decry the alleged affair with a young intern, most haven't let it affect their opinion of his job performance—thereby proving themselves to be one-issue-voters. In America, a good economy beats a royal flush. Clinton's approval ratings are at record highs, topping 70%.
Perhaps voters are taking St. Augustine's pre-conversion attitude: “God, help me to be chaste, but not yet.” While they denounce Clinton around the water cooler at the office, they can't condemn him when the pollster calls. Probably their own lives reflect their moral confusion.
What is the best response though, to this real-world soap opera? Marital fidelity, or lack thereof, is a good gauge of a politician's character, but such judgments are best made in the months preceding an election—not in the years following one.
We knew Clinton was “truth-challenged”—he is on record as giving conflicting statements about his draftdodging. We knew he had “caused pain in his marriage,” in his own words. We knew his charm covered a morass of vices. Yet, the American voters twice elected him president.
Some conservatives are hoping, and perhaps praying, that with two years left in his second term, Clinton will be forced to resign in shame.
Don't hold your breath though. If Gennifer Flowers didn't stop him from beating George Bush, Monica Lewinsky isn't going to keep Clinton from the Oval Office, unless it can be proven that he urged her to commit perjury on his behalf.
America is obsessed with sex—no doubt about it, but the biggest danger for our country doesn't come from Clinton's unhappy marriage. It comes from his bungling of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
The drums of war are beating. Russia and France seem to be lining up with a saber-rattling Iraq, while England and America make macho noises on the other side.
It seems a bit more important than Clinton's moral failings—but is anyone listening?
Kathleen Howley is a Boston-based journalist.