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Clinton's Best Revenge: Give Gore the Helm

If the president is proved sinful, Republicans deserve scrutiny by squeaky clean VP.

January 27, 1998|ROBERT SCHEER | Robert Scheer is a Times contributing editor. E-mail:

Imagine, a national debate about oral sex. There was a time, not long ago, when you couldn't even get those words into a column, let alone the lead sentence, but thanks to the eagerness of right-wing conservatives to attack the president, every schoolchild is now being treated to the raunchiest sexual discourse as an essential component of civics instruction.

Should those of us on the more libertine side of things therefore be thankful to ultraconservatives like the Paula Jones legal team and independent counsel Kenneth Starr for introducing the most explicit and free-ranging of sexual discussions into every home in America? No, because once again sex is presented as perverse, to be hidden and scorned. Hypocrisy is the order of the day as media heavies pretend to be shocked that anyone would ever lie about his sex life. Whatever the final denouement of this tragedy--and it is a tragedy, for Clinton is an extremely able president--this country will be even more inclined to regard sex as something dirty.

The armies of the puritanical right are upon us, and Clinton will continue to provide them with an irresistible target, just as Clarence Thomas and Bob Packwood were a feast for the puritanical left.

Not that I approve of the president's purported behavior. Bill Clinton is giving eroticism a bad name. But, then again, that shouldn't be surprising, given what we know of the man's taste in food. Junk sex is apparently the best way to describe our president's appetite; he seems to consume women rather than experience them.

We can say that with some confidence, now that he admits, according to a leaked deposition, to the Gennifer Flowers affair. I am not referring to the adultery aspect, which should be the concern only of Bill and Hillary, who obviously have an understanding. One is reminded of what journalist Helen Rowland said some 75 years ago: "Every man wants a woman to appeal to his better side, his nobler instincts and his higher nature--and another woman to help him forget them." Anyway, the last time I looked, adultery was not listed in the Constitution as an impeachable offense, and we know it is likely that at least 14 presidents took advantage of that fact. Maybe they, and Clinton, would have agreed with H.L. Mencken that "Adultery is the application of democracy to love."

What offended me about the Flowers tapes is how unimaginative and indeed mechanical was their sexual content. It was vintage retro redneck sex. Clearly, Clinton had not been inspired by the likes of D.H. Lawrence and Anais Nin.

If the latest examples are accurate, then it is only further evidence that the president persists in letting his generation down by betraying the sexual revolution that contained its greatest promise. Sex in the countercultural '60s aspired to be a union of equals recognizing the sensual needs of women as well as of men and shunning the privileges of male power that had dominated the sexual history of this country.

The tradition of sex as a perquisite of power was typified by the "nooky room" that Lyndon B. Johnson maintained at the Capitol when he was Senate majority leader. John Kennedy allegedly had as many as 10 women in a single day, a standard that LBJ as president sought to rival. According to LBJ biographer Robert Dallek's new book, Johnson is said to have responded to stories of Kennedy's exploits by banging on the table and saying "Goddamn it, I had more women by accident than he ever had by design."

You would think that someone who matured in the anti-LBJ '60s could hold to a higher standard. But it is also true that the public chose Clinton, despite his flaws. They have been well-rewarded with a strong economy, zero deficit and no war. Clinton deserves the benefit of the doubt, and someone ought to investigate the leaks from Starr's office as well as his obvious collusion with the politically motivated folks who are orchestrating this show.

However, if the accusations of sex with an intern and perjury are true, Clinton should resign. If he fails to do that, he will destroy the prospects for his party well into the next generation.

Clinton was already too vulnerable to pressure from the Republican congressional majority and in a much weakened state would be a doormat for them. A leader cannot be a joke.

The best revenge that Clinton can take against his tormentors is to resign and let Al Gore take over. Gore is far more formidable than people might expect, and should easily win the next election. He and his wife appear to be sexually squeaky clean to the point of boredom. President Gore might even initiate an investigation into the sex life of Republicans and their media allies who have cast the first stone.

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