This was not an inspiring performance. It was painful to watch the president of the United States behaving like a trapped schoolboy. Worse, however, was to follow. A stained dress was to prove Clinton perjured himself when he assured the American public he “did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
Yet what ensued? Especially after Clinton was impeached, Democrats rushed to his defense. Among other things, they argued he was only lying about sex. According to them, everyone lies about sex, and therefore, it was no big deal.
Nevertheless, what they refused to acknowledge is not everyone is obliged to lie about sex. Most are faithful to their spouses and therefore do not need to sweat when subjected to legal grilling. To imply covering up an indiscretion is perfectly all right is thus to endorse it.
One of the things I learned in social psychology over a half century ago is when people make a public assertion, their commitment subsequently increases. Thus, if they publicly approve of a sexual transgression, they are apt to double-down on their approval later on. Likewise, if they openly excuse a lie, they are apt to continue excusing it.
Sadly, the need to “move on” from Clinton’s misconduct opened the floodgates. Ever since, we have been sliding down a slippery slope toward accepting more and more political corruption. Lies have become standard operating procedure and character assassination an honored mode of political discourse.
During Clinton’s impeachment, converting Lewinsky into a media pinata became a national obsession. She was portrayed as a squalid floozy who seduced this otherwise admirable man into committing an understandable peccadillo. Never mind he had a history of sexual offenses and needed to be protected from “bimbo eruptions.”
Or consider the unhappy case of Kenneth Starr. Before he investigated Clinton, he was a respected attorney. Yet while doing so, he was transformed into a religious fanatic who scandalously abused his power by asking questions of witnesses such as Lewinski’s mother.
Bill and his wife, Hillary, had a field day vilifying anyone who delved into his reckless behavior. Still, for this, journalists lionized them. They were evidently skillful politicians because they won the battle for public opinion. That they did so viciously and dishonestly did not matter.
In this manner are political cultures born. Thus do corruption and mendacity become accepted ways of transacting business. One of the subsequent manifestations of this development was the barbecuing George W. Bush received for allegedly lying about WMDs in Iraq. In fact, it was his Democratic accusers who lied.
Bush was mistaken about the WMDs; nevertheless, he told the truth as he understood it. Assured by the intelligence agencies these weapons were there, he too was a surprised when they were not found. Hence, calling him a liar was not based on facts, but a need to balance the books. For Democrats, moral equality could only be re-established if a Republican president was dragged down to the level of his predecessor.
Nowadays, this same pattern of deception and vilification persists. Indeed, Barack Obama has transformed it into the normal way of operating. Like Clinton — yet more so — he regularly charges his political opponents with being dastardly scoundrels. Thus, Romney was depicted as depriving a dying woman of medical care and aching to start a Cold War with Russia.
So here comes the next act. With a special committee having been appointed to investigate Benghazi, we can be sure its Republican members will be portrayed as vengeful partisans. As for the evidence they uncover, it will be dismissed as dishonest and/or irrelevant.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is a professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.