So I get an order of General Tso's chicken from my favorite Chinese take-out, eat half of it and put the rest in the fridge, intending to save it for the next day's lunch. Along comes my daughter, the mooch:
Please, Daddy, please, please, please can I have some?
No, honey, Daddy's saving that. You can't have it. Leave it alone. Don't touch. Forbidden. Prohibited. "Verboten".
By now, it's probably apparent -- if you're a parent -- where this story's going. I head to the fridge the next day, taste buds dancing the macarena in anticipation, only to find that someone's been eating my chicken. I call the daughter in and grill her like a steak, but she's cooler than a mob lawyer the whole time, insisting with earnest eyes that she absolutely did not eat my lunch.
Turns out she's right. She gave it to the baby and let him eat it. Call it the Bill Clinton defense.
I mean, the man's raised slipping by on a technicality to an art form, hasn't he? I think Democratic leaders did the president a favor the other day when they advised him to stop "hair-splitting" about his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and his House counterpart, Richard Gephardt, spoke my mind: I cringe every time the president's legal team points to a technical, legalistic definition of sex to support Clinton's contention that he didn't perjure himself when he denied doing the deed with Lewinsky.
Only a bunch of lawyers in a town that would pay $700 for a toilet seat could have so much trouble defining sex.
But then, most of what passes for a defense of Bill Clinton these days has begun to seem strained, shrill and unencumbered by reality. I recently received an e-mail from a reader who demanded, apparently seriously, that Clinton be given the "presumption of innocence." And I'm saying to myself, what's left to presume? He's copped to the charges. It's all over but the spinning.
That spinning, though, continues with desperate zeal. Some of Clinton's defenders have sought to compartmentalize the issues, asserting that personal failures have no bearing on ability to govern. It's a nice argument in theory, but it falls apart in practice, particularly where the presidency is concerned.
The truth, verified by history, is that a president is more than the sum of his legislative initiatives, more than the totality of his policy goals. A president is his times. He embodies the nation's endeavors, demands sacrifices of its people, offers succor for its sufferings, in a thousand ways that have nothing to do with the minutiae of governing.
Thus did John Kennedy call us to the moon, Franklin Roosevelt lift us from the depths of Depression, and even the regrettable Ronald Reagan restore to us a certain native optimism -- not simply by legislative accomplishment, but also, indeed, primarily, by dint of personal authority and moral suasion.
You must have those things to lead effectively. Bill Clinton no longer does.
No, he traded them for a sordid fling with a White House groupie and for a strategy of expedient lies under which he stonewalled the truth, evaded the truth, shaded the truth, did everything but tell the truth. Now it all comes back to haunt him. Clinton has painted himself into a corner, and the choices left to him are few, stark and unforgiving.
He can admit that he lied and thereby open himself to penalties for perjury. Or he can continue to fight, hanging his future on a few tenuous threads of legal jargon. Neither choice is attractive. Neither restores to Clinton the things he needs to lead.
I don't know that he can ever get those things back, but I do know that he doesn't help himself by relying upon tangled technicalities and legalistic loopholes to slide past the fact of his lying.
For what it's worth, my daughter didn't lie about eating my lunch, either. Technically. But that didn't make it right. Of course, she's an 8-year-old. What's Bill Clinton's excuse?