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Commentary | COLUMN RIGHT/ CAL THOMAS

Burton Soars Over Clinton in Integrity

The congressman owned up to his sexual liaison, while the president lied under oath.

September 09, 1998|CAL THOMAS | Cal Thomas writes a syndicated column from Washington

There's more slime flowing from the White House than on the kids' cable TV network Nickelodeon. If you don't get the analogy, ask a kid. The slimers think that by "outing" Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) on his out-of-wedlock parenting (the adult, not the child, deserves the scarlet "I"), they can create a doctrine of immoral equivalency. Under this doctrine, President Clinton escapes impeachment. How quickly we've regressed from Richard Nixon's "I'm not a crook" to Bill Clinton's "Hey, we're all crooks."

The White House denies any role in an upcoming Vanity Fair article on Burton, but who believes its denials anymore?

It is true that on the sin scale there is no moral difference between Burton's extramarital affair and the president's. Yes, one produced a child and the other only produced some cigars. But the responses to these acts are worlds apart.

In Burton's case, he owned up to his responsibility before the public heard about it. He says he told his wife and has paid child support to the mother. The woman was not his employee, she never filed a complaint nor was there a lawsuit or investigation. Furthermore, the incident occurred more than a decade ago, before Burton was elected to Congress. At a news conference, Burton mentioned other substantial differences: "I have never perjured myself. I have never committed obstruction of justice. I have been as straight as an arrow in my public duty. But this is private."

In his admission and behavior, Burton is different only in degree from NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who, between the ages of 16 and 22, fathered five children while he was a gang member in Baltimore. To his everlasting credit and his children's benefit, Mfume got his act together and took personal responsibility, including financial responsibility, for his out-of-wedlock offspring.

Those are the differences, and they are very big differences. Had Bill Clinton "merely" had a sexual encounter with Monica Lewinsky in the White House, it would still have been outrageous. He still would have hurt his family. The office of the presidency would still have been sullied. But he would not have committed a potentially impeachable offense. His fate would have been left to the opinion polls and historians. But he lied about his affair under oath. And the forthcoming report by the Office of the Independent Counsel is likely to present evidence that he caused others to lie and tried to keep authorities from learning the truth.

Last weekend's talk shows indicated a further erosion of support for the president among Democrats. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York flatly stated on ABC that the president's lie under oath in the Paula Jones deposition, in which he denied having sex with Lewinsky, qualifies as perjury. How much longer can Democrats keep Clinton at the top of their party when he is doing more for the Republicans than for his fellow Democrats? Clinton is a better campaign weapon for Republicans than David Duke ever was for Democrats. Democrats are poised for disaster in November and a possible meltdown in 2000, similar to what happened to Republicans following Watergate.

Mfume and Burton acknowledged their wrongdoing and are paying the consequences for their actions. In doing so, they preserve a moral standard that benefits all of society. But Clinton wants us to believe that the standard doesn't exist, or shouldn't apply to him or should be ignored because he has the power to save the nation.

Arrogance may not be an impeachable offense, but it can lead to actions that are. In Clinton's case, it has.

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