Let the President be President -- right after Hillary sticks it to him.
By Susan Zakin
FEBRUARY 2, 1998: Am I the last cynic in America? Stunned by the self-righteous TV maunderings of everyone from Deborah Norville to George Will, all professing shock at the president's indiscretions, I took myself out to my local Office Max to take the pulse of the American public. What if President Clinton resigned simply on the strength of these pundits' remarks, when the American public really couldn't care less? And what better place to get the real dope about what real Americans think, I reasoned, than the nearest strip mall?
Besides, I needed paper for the laser printer.
The wife deferred to the husband, but then she jumped in, too. As it turned out, both felt the same way. President Clinton shouldn't be punished for having an affair. But if he lied?
"Impeach him," he said.
"Uh-huh. Impeach," said his wife without hesitation.
I pushed the issue. The reactions of the George Wills and Sam Donaldsons over the last week had made it perfectly obvious why a politician would try to cover up sexual pecadillos. OK, maybe it wasn't quite legal. But I didn't think any other pol would have done differently. Baring your, uh, soul to 280 million Americans and a hostile Republican congress isn't the same as confessing to your wife. You could argue that this sets a different standard for politicians, but I'd say they already have one. Nobody else in America is supposed to live a life so bland that it's above reproach. Pardon me for saying the obvious, but Clinton's sex life really isn't anyone's business, even if it is a lot more interesting than Princess Di's death.
"You know Kennedy would have been impeached in the first week of his presidency if we applied that standard then?" I asked.
They didn't care. "Well, we didn't know that stuff then," the husband said. The wife merely smiled and nodded, probably relieved that she had been the one with the lantern who found an honest guy.
Next I saw two young women and a young man. They looked to be in their early twenties. About Monica Lewinski's age, in fact. I asked them the same question. Should Clinton be impeached?
"Oh, come on," said one of the women.
"No way," said the other.
"I think it's a good thing if it gets more Americans talking about sex. This country is too puritannical," said the young man. The young women smiled indulgently.
None of them thought Clinton should be impeached. Or even have his hand slapped.
Finally I asked an Office Max employee, a man in his late thirties, what he thought. Should Clinton be impeached?
"Nah. But I don't think he should get off without repercussions, either."
I asked what kind of repercussions the President should face if he turned out to be guilty.
"I think the same thing should happen to him that would happen to other guys who did the same thing."
What would that be, I asked.
"His wife should divorce him and take him for everything he's got."
"But he shouldn't be impeached?" I persisted.
"Nah. That's enough."
Start taking notes, staff. Between the slackers and the traditionalists is the middle ground where the average American lives. Tell Hillary to stop standing by her man. Maybe Americans aren't ready for a leader whose wife and mistress both attend his funeral, a la President Mitterand of France. But they might be ready for a First Couple who act like regular Americans. Bill Clinton's denials and obfuscations bring a rueful half-smile of recognition from anyone familiar with the tactics that regular guys use when caught with their flies unzipped. But the Teflon-coated Stepford Wife smile that seems to be the main requirement for political wives is not the normal reaction of an all-American gal faced with her husband's indiscretions. She screams. She rants. She cries.
She calls a lawyer.
Not everyone divorces when one partner is unfaithful, of course. But the Clinton administration is badly in need of something to distract the TV pundits. Since the luckily timed movie Wag the Dog already has the war thing covered, why not try to play out the Lewinski soap opera to its logical conclusion?
If Hillary really wants to save Bill's presidency, she should call Dick Morris' wife. The two of them could marshal their considerable legal training and skills to set new precedents in divorce law favoring women. And children, for that matter, who are the ones most affected by the economic inequities that come with divorce and single parenthood in general. In the words of an earlier generation of women, they should really stick it to those guys.
Finally, Bill Clinton might get some sympathy. (Not to mention court-ordered treatment for his apparent sex addiction.)
Then he could get back to doing what he's good at.
No, not that.
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