01 February 1998
explains why he's not prepared to swallow the latest stories coming from the White House
For the last two weeks America and Britain have been in the grip of sex
scandals - scandals about American President Bill Clinton's alleged
adultery and harassment of women, and scandals about British Foreign
Secretary Robin Cook's separation from his wife and relationship with his
This is one instance where LM Online is happy to rally to the defence of
Messrs Clinton and Cook. Not only are the allegations against them trivial,
but even if they were entirely true they would be of no account.
The gravest charges against President Clinton are those made by Paula Jones
in a sexual harassment suit that is being supported by the Special
Investigator Kenneth Starr. Paula Jones' allegations, even if they were
true, are at worst the description of a misunderstanding between two
adults. But without any direct evidence they are simply unprovable. The
attempt to 'establish a pattern of behaviour' by dredging through the
President's past are a scurrilous attempt to smear Clinton and prejudice
people against him - in the hope that prejudice will substitute for a real
The latest tittle-tattle standing in for news reporting is the Monica
Lewinsky allegations. This parlour room gossip is dressed up as 'serious
allegations' on the spurious grounds that Clinton told Lewinsky to perjure
herself in the Jones' trial by denying an affair. But again there is no
proof behind these allegations.
Similarly, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has been berated for trying
to sack a civil servant so that he could get his girlfriend Gaynor Regan
the job. (Which he didn't give her, in any case.) Cook is also challenged
for taking Regan along on foreign trips as his spouse. These high moral
principles about perjury, perks and civil servants are just an excuse for
Conservatives and Republicans to stir up the sexual scandals and keep them
in the public eye.
According to Hillary Clinton, the allegations against her husband are part
of a right-wing conspiracy. It is true that opponents of the Democratic
Party have rallied behind Kenneth Starr, but there is no need for a
conspiracy theory to explain the scandals.
In fact the descent into scandal has more to do with the failures of the
right-wing opposition - in Britain and in America. Rather than contesting
the policies of Blair and Clinton, their opponents have latched onto sexual
and other scandals to make up for their lack of a political alternative to
New Labour and New Democrats alike.
But more than the politicians, it is the press that has fuelled the
scandal-mania. The British press are preoccupied with Labour scandals in
much the same way that they obsessed on Tory scandals in previous years.
Labour's honeymoon with the press would seem to be over (though Tony Blair
has managed to rise, presidentially, above the gutter-sniping).
There is a great deal for which the British press could criticise the Blair
government. Labour's many attacks on civil liberties and its refusal to pay
the nurses the award recommended by the independent review are obvious
examples. But New Labour is rarely criticised for its policies. There is a
consensus in Britain that political differences are best swept under the
carpet, in case they provoke any real conflict.
In America, too, there is no real criticism of what Bill Clinton is doing -
except what he does with his fly open. Revelations about the CIA's role in
assisting the Mexican government's deaths squads against the Chiapas have
been largely ignored as the media have zeroed in on his zipper.
Bipartisanship is the order of the day between the Democratic President and
the Congressional Republican majority. There the press are equally craven
about the President's policies.
The British and American press both glory in their role as a check on the
power of the politicians. But the truth is that the press have manufactured
bogus scandals to embarrass the politicians, while going along with all the
regressive social policies - from criminalising children to welfare
An additional force behind the US scandals has been the role of the Special
Investigator Kenneth Starr. The existence of this permanent legal
investigator into any and all allegations against the incumbent President
is a sneak's charter. Any accusation, no matter how cranky, is
investigated, without any end-point ever coming into view. Starr began
looking at the Whitewater affair - an investigation into real estate
speculation. Now Starr has lumped in the latest sexual harassment scandals.
Starr is alleged to be politically motivated. He might well be, but the
principal motivation is the office itself. The role of Special Investigator
was created after the Watergate era, as a check on the power of the
President. It was characteristic of the left then that they would try to
achieve by legal activism what they failed to do at the ballot-box: get rid
of Richard Nixon. The creation of a special investigator with a roving
brief to investigate allegations against the President might as well be
designed to generate scandals. Starr's office is a magnet for 'smoking
bimbos' and conspiracy theorists.
The way that Kenneth Starr has crippled the American political process
should be a warning of what the future in Britain will be like. The Special
Investigator is the model for the Nolan and Downey enquiries into
parliamentary sleaze. Far from lifting the smell of corruption from the
Palace of Westminster, the recent attempts at parliamentary regulation will
foster more investigations and more newspaper-driven scandals. The creation
of an unelected office, with greater powers than those of Parliament is a
dangerous precedent. Those powers are designed to be used against
politicians and they will - irrespective of whether the scandals have any
substance or not.
Already the so-called opposition has taunted the Prime Minister with the
recently published Code of Conduct for Ministers alleging that Cook is in
breach of it for taking Gaynor Regan abroad with him. That just illustrates
the problem of publishing the Code of Conduct. Instead of criticising the
government's policies, the temptation is to fixate on their 'conduct' - as
if politics were reducible to good behaviour. It will not be long before
the demands for new Downey enquiries are made, and a government that has
made a fetish out of moral rectitude will find it difficult to fend them
The only real grounds for complaint against these politicians' sexual
adventures is that it would be a nice idea if they did some work instead of
fooling around. Perhaps political leaders who dedicated more time and
effort to the problems in society would command more respect. After all, it
is the political leaders themselves who have made their own personal lives
and behaviour the be-all and end-all of their political activity. Bill
Clinton should think twice about forcing his family life down the throats
of the American people. And Robin Cook should be more circumspect about
'ethical foreign policy'. If politicians will insist on reducing politics
to a morality play about personal behaviour, they should expect that their
own personal behaviour will come under scrutiny.
The one piece of good news from America is that the American public are
wholly unmoved by the latest scandal, and the President's poll-ratings how
no lasting surge of feeling against him. Indeed the latest polls show
Clinton's support running at around 72 per cent - about what Reagan
achieved in his heyday. Newsmen take note. Your prurience is not
necessarily shared by the public. In particular the Republican Party failed
to make any hay while Monica Lewinsky's sun was shining. Looking at the
near-paralysis of the right in the face of the new style of politics
promoted by Clinton and Blair, that is not surprising.
The bad news - though well told - is in David Mamet's screen-play to the
film 'Wag the Dog', showing now acros the USA. In Mamet's film an American
President embroiled in a sex scandal launches a war against a small country
(Albania) to distract attention from his domestic problems. (Michael Moore
had a George Bush-like President (Alan Alda) start a war against Canada in
his straight-to-video classic 'Canadian Bacon'.)
In the lead-up to the Paula Jones hearings American spies known as
'weapons inspectors' provoked a fresh confrontation with Iraqi Premier
Saddam Hussein. Robin Cook pledged British support for any American action
against Saddam, while the other members of the UN Security Council balked
at a renewed conflict. These staged conflicts have served as a useful
distraction for American Presidents, regularly coinciding with the
Presidential and Congressional elections and resulting in the deaths of
innocent Iraqis. Already the Arab press is referring to the growing
conflict as 'The War of Clinton's penis'. This gruesome human sacrifice to
the virility of the American presidency must stop. Bill Clinton and Robin
Cook should make love, not war.
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