BERKELEY — FADE IN. Late afternoon. A small group of gray-haired men is sitting in a semicircle on stage in a large, well-lit auditorium. After a few minutes, a short man wearing thick glasses enters.
Host: Welcome to this special edition of our continuous coverage of "The President in Crisis." Here tonight for our symposium is a distinguished panel of philosophers, writers, poets, historians, scientists and world leaders. Let's begin with the question of why President Bill Clinton lied about his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky and whether the American people have a right to know the truth. Anyone?
Demosthenes: Nothing is so easy as to deceive one's self.
Cicero: Our minds possess by nature an insatiable desire to know the truth.
Albert Camus: Sometimes it is easier to see clearly into the liar than into the man who tells the truth. Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.
Voltaire: This is the character of truth: It is for all men, it has only to show itself to be recognized and one cannot argue against it. A long dispute means that both parties are wrong.
Host: (turning to an old, bearded man) You, sir, have been in a political crisis before. What would you advise the president?
Sophocles: A lie never lives to be old . . . . Truth is always the strongest argument.
H.L. Mencken: The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.
Mark Twain: Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it!
Emile Zola: When truth is buried underground, it grows, it chokes, it gathers such an explosive force that on the day it bursts out, it blows up everything with it.
Host: What about you, doctor? Should the president have confessed all?
Sigmund Freud: In confession the sinner tells what he knows, in analysis the neurotic must tell more. Besides, we have no knowledge that the system of confession has developed the power to get rid of direct symptoms of illness.
Host: Ooh, sounds bad! Let's go to the phones! Cleveland, are you there?
Cleveland: Yes, what role has the press played in fomenting this crisis?
H.L. Mencken: The average newspaper, especially of the better sort, has the intelligence of a hillbilly evangelist, the courage of a rat, the fairness of a prohibitionist boob-jumper, the information of a high-school janitor, the taste of a designer of celluloid valentines and the honor of a police-station lawyer!
Henry Adams: The press is the hired agent of a monied system, and set up for no other purpose than to tell lies where the interests are involved. One can trust nobody and nothing.
Oscar Wilde: In the old days men had the rack. Now they have the press.
Henry David Thoreau: Blessed are they who never read a newspaper.
Host: Amen. Next caller. San Clemente, are you there?
San Clemente: Yes, does the brutally adversarial nature of our political system encourage presidents to lie?
Brooks Adams: I had rather starve and rot and keep the privilege of speaking the truth as I see it, than of holding all the offices that capital has to give from the presidency down.
Thomas Jefferson: No man will ever bring out of the presidency the reputation which carries him into it.
Calvin Coolidge: I think the American public wants a solemn ass as a president!
Host: Tough crowd! What d'ya think about this, Will?
William Butler Yeats: A statesman is an easy man/He tells his lies by rote/A journalist makes up his lies/And takes you by the throat/So stay at home and drink your beer/And let the neighbours vote.
Host: That's the last word because we're out of time. But stay tuned for more of our continuous coverage of "The President in Crisis." Thanks for watching!