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Why Clinton won't confess

The Clinton White House responded with contempt this week to the
suggestion that the American people would be quite forgiving if
President Clinton confessed fully and frankly that he actually did have
a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. And while the Clinton
people may have their own reasons for dismissing it, I think that the
contempt they poured on the suggestion was richly deserved.

I think I know why President Clinton isn’t even considering an honest
confession of the facts. He knows that such a confession would end the
possibility of doubt that he is a habitual liar, and would thus
eliminate all credibility from his public and private statements for the
remainder of his presidency. Many people who are getting what they want
out of this administration — including the “money is god” Republicans
who have been encouraging the Congress to shirk its duty to seek the
truth — have depended on having some shred of plausibility for their
passive defense of the president. An open and direct confession of
having baldly lied under oath would make it much harder for Bill Clinton
to continue to be useful to such types. A new spokesman would be
needed, for example, to lie to us about the importance of our trade
relationship with China. It is already hard enough to take Clinton
seriously on this and other topics — but with the memory of his
confessional press conference always playing in our minds as we watched
him, it would become simply impossible.

That is why Clinton will circle the wagons and continue the denial,
perhaps until the case against him is so strong that he has literally no
choice. And that is why the suggestion that he simply admit to the
truth of the affair with Lewinsky and ask for forgiveness is so foreign
to his mind, despite some real indications that the public imagines
itself willing to grant such forgiveness. With the instinctive savvy of
the corrupt salesman, Clinton is probably thinking more clearly than his
customers about the damage any such admission would do to the carefully
constructed illusions he depends upon to do his work.

But what explains the eagerness of prominent Republicans to reassure the
president that confessing to this one little tiny act of perjury is the
route to political rehabilitation? One not terribly flattering
explanation is that they are trapping him. They are hoping to entice
him into an admission of perjury, confident that if they do so the
entire Clinton house of cards will collapse.

But whatever else we can accuse the Republican leadership of in this
whole episode, an ambition to such treacherous violation of the terms
of a truce is not one of them. It would be nice, I admit, to see such
energy from the Republican leaders, although not in a dishonorable
effort. But it seems a bit out of character that prominent Republican
senators would suddenly be so determined to bring the president down
that they would falsely promise him their firm political support against
impeachment, just to trick him into the fatal moment of weakness.

So if the offer of national forgiveness in exchange for confession is
not a trick, it must be sincere. And if it is sincere, it reveals a
breathtaking ignorance of the importance of the whole business on the
part of those who made the offer.

If Monica Lewinsky is telling the truth, then the President of the
United States committed deliberate perjury to maintain his hold on
political power. We have manifold and convincing reasons to believe
that this is not a unique event in the life of a generally truthful man,
but rather a sadly typical incident revealing the kind of man that Bill
Clinton is through and through. Now it is being suggested that such a
man can be a successful president as long as he convincingly apologizes
to us for the one specific occasion when he has been spectacularly

What is at stake in the Monica Lewinsky matter is whether we will
accept, in the most public and unmistakable manner possible, the
principle that truthfulness is not a requirement for high office in
America. It has been clear for some time that the President of the
United States is a liar, and barring an unexpected reversal of evidence
that would rival the best of Perry Mason, it is clear that he is a
perjurer as well. The Lewinsky case is about whether we are willing to
have such a man for our president.

Clinton partisans are quick to point out that many lies have been told
by many politicians. This would not have surprised our Founders, of
course. What would have surprised them is the notion that a people
could openly accept lying as standard procedure from its leaders, and
expect to keep its liberty. A self-governing people must be a
self-respecting people, and if we respect ourselves we will insist that
our leaders respect us as well. It is hard to think of a more
fundamental litmus test for self-respect than our insistence that our
leaders tell us the truth.

In fact, the American people have never before been tempted to the
cynical view that our political leaders can simply refuse to respect the
truth if it interferes with their political ambition. Rule of law and
our entire regime of self-government are not merely threatened by this
view, they would literally cease the moment we accepted it. The damage
that this base president has done can be summed up by the fact that he
has brought us to the point where we talk openly of acknowledging
habitual deceit as the standard for presidential leadership. This is
why the notion that Bill Clinton could salvage his presidency merely by
acknowledging a particular lie about sex with Monica is not merely
implausible, as the Clinton people seem to realize, it is deeply
contemptible as well.

President Clinton couldn’t possibly apologize for the damage he has
done, and the lies he has told, without confessing himself utterly unfit
for office — which he is. The catalog of his contempt for American
principle, security, and decent conscience is vast, and its damage
utterly beyond his power to undo or compensate or apologize for. And we
would be fools to pay attention to his attempt to express regret anyway,
because the whole point is that he lies well.

Clinton’s confession is not the one that matters. We have a national
confession to make. We have been tempted for quite a while now to
believe that we could retain our liberty while despising the discipline
of truth and moral principle. President Clinton is just the poster boy
of this experiment. It has been a rather destructive binge, and it may
not be over. But if it is to end now, it will not be with a Clinton
press conference, but with a new resolve in the people’s representatives
to do their duty.

If an example is needed, perhaps the speech by Justice Clarence Thomas
to the National Bar Association last week would help. Justice Thomas
went before his harshest critics and reminded them that a man’s duty is
to seek the truth and follow it, not to indulge the passions of men. He
acknowledged that his own pursuit of truth is fallible, and invited
cooperation in the effort. The simple dignity of his speech left even
liberal columnists like William Raspberry acknowledging that he had
seized the “intellectual, ethical and common-sense high ground from his

Republican leaders should stop playing games, and stop sending signals.
They should put other considerations aside and focus on the truth. The
job of the people in Congress, Republican and Democrat, is to get the
truth, put it before the American people, make a proper judgement on the
basis of it, and then get on with the rest of the business of
self-government. This is the way a great nation should behave, and it’s
what we need to do right now.

Alan Keyes is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host. His WorldNetDaily column appears every Friday. You can hear his radio program over the internet
via Real Audio.