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Confess That Sin, Be It Monetary or Monica

September 02, 1998|ART BUCHWALD

It was the first meeting in Moscow between Boris Yeltsin and President Clinton. The ruble was lower than the Moscow subway.

Yeltsin said to the president, "I'm up to my ears in fiscal borscht. What do I tell my people?"

President Clinton said, "Tell them the truth. They'll forgive anything if you tell them the truth."

"But my devaluation plan didn't work. The country is going broke."

"It doesn't matter as long as you level with your people. They expect you to make a few mistakes. After all, leaders of superpowers can screw up. But if you go on television and offer a mea culpa, they will say, 'Let's get on with it.' "

Yeltsin said, "What's a mea culpa?"

"You go on television and ask everyone, including God, to forgive you for your sins."

"Will it work?"

"It always works for me," Clinton said. "I had a problem recently, and I was being criticized for it. So I told the country I had made a slight mistake, and afterward everyone was glad I admitted to it."

"Will they forgive me for defaulting on my loans?"

"They forgave me when I said I had defaulted on personal matters, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. In our country they like a president who is a straight shooter."

"Suppose I devalued the ruble, defaulted on my loans and had an affair with a ballet dancer in the Kremlin. Should I confess to all three?"

"Two out of three is enough. The Russian people don't want to hear all your mistakes."

Yeltsin was grateful. "I feel terrible about the ruble falling. At the beginning I denied that it had fallen. But then the evidence kept piling up, and I was sure people would not believe me. The Russians get upset about their rubles."

"You did the right thing, Boris. Never explain and never complain. Swearing on a stack of rubles usually works when all else fails."

"Will my confession help me in the polls?"

"It helped me. I was way down in the polls until I told the truth about Hurricane Bonnie on CNN."

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