[Translated from Landplage November 1998]
Clinton’s domestic rivals who so bitterly pursue “impeachment” have little against his politics; there is even occasionally – as with the massive retaliatory strikes against Bin Laden’s terrorist group – boisterous applause from the Republican ranks. And yet they consider Clinton the person intolerable. Aside from the fact that for a decent Republican the world is only in order if a stalwart representative of the Grand Old Party commands the leadership of the world power, Bill Clinton always seemed to them a special affront. How can someone with such “un-American activities” in his biography as refusing military service in Viet Nam, hence his patriotic duty, who smoked marijuana and cavorted in the peace movement instead, today muster the moral force to govern the superpower as president and shining model of the nation?
By setting the independent counsel Kenneth Starr against Clinton, the Republicans advanced an important step: He got the President to publicly deny the accusation of a sex affair under oath; the question of an impeachment proceeding is thereby on the table. The only thing that can bring the most powerful man in the world discredit seems to be oral sex with an intern and the white lie about it.
The small indiscretion of the American President and his “white lie” goes from the status of a men’s joke to high-official political event because it effects something which is nowhere so valuable as in a democracy: the trust of the people in its sovereign.
“The lie in political office shakes the foundation of the community, which is based not only on law, but also on trust... The private lie disgraces the individual who, for the public, embodies the state.” (Sp 8,9.)
If it belongs to the foundation of a community that the people and the state come together in trust, then this clearly shows that this community does not want to debate its objectives and purposes. Evidently, everything is already certain here. Therefore, this bond of trust also remains a very one-sided thing. This shows the second “foundation” of this community, the “law” which by force ensures the observance of all the orders that are put on the political agenda by the politician entrusted with the wielding of power.
What is not talked about in such a trusting community are, first of all, its basic concerns in the world and the methods of their realization. In a form of government in which public and participation are written in capital letters, this is regarded as the precondition of politics. Why there “must” be rule and in which sense it “must” be exercised is not up for discussion, but is considered a self-evident fact, from which result the many “tasks” for the current politics. The people who feel called upon to exercise rule must prove themselves worthy of the offices established specifically for handling this. How they master the tasks allegedly given to them and their special necessities is also not up for debate; this is done by people who carry the “burden of the office,” or as it is said today, have to “do their job” completely by themselves and their conscience. The people should trust in the fact that they do “it” well – whatever this consists of.
The only thing that is not predetermined is who may take these offices and do politics. This is the real area of the democratic public. They are responsible for electing such people, since they get to act in politics only as the “people affected”; the task is incumbent on them to appoint the high officials by a majority with their trust and categorically authorize the high officials to rule over them.
The principle according to which democrats give their trust by voting thereby already stands firm. When an undoubted, established state interest gives the “tasks” in politics, people must want someone who can and will do this successfully. The country needs “good” politicians and the people are completely ready to form an opinion about who this should be, from a wide variety of offers.
This makes the question of the “ability” and “fitness” of the politician, and thus his quality of character, an all-determining and continually burning issue for the democratic public. In talking about politics, one speaks only of the character of the persons who get to implement them. This is the case even when the newspapers are filled with the current business of politics; this is always argued about in the form of the individuals who are responsible for coping with them: what he or she does is good, he does it well, she gets enough consensus or maybe she loses her authority – these are the fundamental criteria. Thus every political issue is transformed into a personality issue: Everything is made an exhibit for the good or bad character of the politician.
Where the politician is questioned not about his purposes, but about his personality, it cannot be missed that political standpoints are not of real interest in the formation of political trust. As if mature citizens have a notion that one must already know someone very well in order to have something like trust in him, they turn away their from the political interest of the politicians themselves in order to find a clue within the politician’s private-personal sphere – which they know well from their own lives – to what extent he or she is a good and decent person and promises therefore to be credible as a leader of the nation and thus has the ability to carry out “its cause” successfully.
That makes people like Clinton a professional self-representation artist who is recommended for public office precisely because of the ostentatiously showcased integrity of his private morality. According to all the rules of the trade and with the willing assistance of the media, the light of a trust in the person in the politician is developed in order to win the trust and the votes of the citizens. Of course, the political self-representation, as well as the people’s moral power of judgment, orients itself in the constant test of the qualifications of “its” politicians according to the valid standards of behavior and customs, and in the “Monica affair” the relevant family values play just as outstanding a role as the virtue of honesty and respect for the law, against which the American president – the state ideal personified! – has now offended.
Thus the view from the keyhole of rule is inherent in democratic culture. The absurdity that the most ridiculous private matters of minor importance win such towering importance as clues for forming opinions about the reliability of the political personnel is part of democratic everyday life. The most disparate criteria – from the military record of a president to oral sex – become compatible in the all pervasive personal question. Still the most insignificant private trash thereby becomes – as long as the citizen’s fantasy exists about the connection of leadership ability and moral integrity of the relevant individual – an object of the highest interest for the formation of an opinion = trust. This makes the small private sins of Bill Clinton a state affair.
The fact that hypocrisy is therefore an essential part of political self-representation is given with the need to “procure trust,” just as is the necessity to vigorously deny whatever does not fit “the image.” To that extent, Clinton’s efforts to deny all the announcements about his “inadmissible relations” with a White House intern correspond to his image of respect for, and the respect-deserving, dignity of his office; it is just his bad luck that the contrary could be proved and thus perjury, tampering with witnesses, obstruction of justice, etc. The Republicans’ longstanding efforts to discredit the President with such questions about his trustworthiness for Americans, so that the next election returns a decent Republican in the White House, have found a dramatic intensification with the provoked legally usable crimes of the President: the highest representative of rights and law is no longer accused of just moral laxity, but some serious breaches of the law.
However, these prospects bring the affair not only into the sober spheres of the administration of justice, but at the same time intensify the public controversy about the honor of the President. The legal process is not so simple for the top man of the USA: impeachment can be introduced with a simple majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives, but can be brought successfully only with a two-thirds majority in the Senate, thus only with the agreement of some Democrats. The crucial question remains whether the Republicans can successfully torpedo the nation’s trust in their President. In the meantime, this provokes the opinion leaders to such tremendous efforts of manipulation that “the battle for public opinion” is waged so mercilessly that in Washington there is talk everywhere of a “mood for blood” and a “witch-hunt.”
In order to convince the Americans, and with them the Democratic representatives required for impeachment, that the state’s highest official was put there in error, his adversaries try to “degrade” him until he stands in public only as a “lust-crazed joke.” The Republicans therefore show no mercy: The publication of Clinton’s testimony before the Grand Jury dramatically follows the broadcast of the video which shows, for the political expertise of all Americans, a President wriggling before the highly embarrassing questions of the Grand Jury. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives decides after no more than two days to publish more mountains of documents with spicy details and, finally, the confidential tape recordings of the gossip between Monica Lewinsky and her friend are offered for American opinion formation. Such reports from the “oral Office,” down to the exact details describing the misuse of Clinton’s cigars, are therefore so “embarrassing” because they open a glaring contradiction to the official dignity of the office and expose the self-representation of the “dignitary” as hypocrisy. Exactly the right way to hold Clinton’s up to ridicule.
pursues the double strategy of passing the buck in the trust question back to the Republicans and at the same time restoring trust in Clinton: before the Americans’ capacity for moral judgment, the subtle problem is opened whether the power- and scandal-obsessed Republicans, with their “puritanical pornographic” investigator, do not do more to soil the dignity of the White House with their public humiliation of the President than the discrete pleasures of the President. The Democrats‘ counter, that the Republicans launch their “lascivious reproaches” not out of their affectation of national responsibility for the cleanliness of the White House or because of the protection of the public‘s “full right to information,” but only for purely egoistic reasons of power, opens a counter-morality for the restoration of trust by the people.
Secure in the confidence that the trust of Americans can only land anyway with one of the two competing parties, and that damage to the other consequently automatically precipitates loyalty to one’s own, the Democrats show how well they also understand the art of character assassination. Even infidelities from thirty years ago by grey-haired Republicans are taken out off the poison shelf in order to relativize Clinton’s misdemeanors. Nowadays political opinion formation in the land of freedom and democracy generally takes the character of “mudslinging.”
The President’s rehabilitation strategy, like the character defamation campaign of his opponents, keeps strictly to identifying his personality with his office: If Clinton refers to the quality of his administration, to his internationally recognized strong leadership, to his world-political successes, which not even the Republicans deny, and to his popularity with the people, he reminds one that trust in a President has other points of reference than his erotic behavior. However, he does not do this to thereby qualify the separate meaning of the private, moral sphere. Self-representation in this sphere is also still his means.
An essential part of his defense is therefore to re-establish trust in him as a repentant and purified sinner. For this purpose, Clinton has supplemented his behavior as a responsible and sovereign statesman with remorseful admissions of guilt and ostentatious prayers and confessions to two newly signed-on clerics in the “tele-confessional booth of the nation”:
“Slick Willy has thought up some tricks. He now makes his regret public and wants to meet weekly with two ministers for prayers.” (Sp)
That such exercises are at least as enormously hypocritical as his ostentatious hand holding with the First Lady by no means counteracts the purpose of this trust offensive: a mercilessly affected remorse signals that the President wants to bow to the dignity of his office and the moral requirements of his people.
The President’s compassion-begging question as to whether or not he too may not have a sort of a private life – at least when he uses the romantic occasion of an evening telephone call with an obstructionist senator to let Ms. Lewinsky give him a blow job – away from the political competition, by himself, with his saxophone, pets, the intern, Chelsea, Hilary and God – even this does not lack its effect. Indeed, he himself does not even believe that he can allow the image of his officially celebrated private life – without intern – to be spread as an important means of advertising his trustworthiness every single day on every television channel and at the same time expect the public to respect his completely private life – with intern; but as an appeal to the human-all too-human aspect of the power of moral judgment of his Americans, he already succeeds with it. A lot of Americans, in addition to French intellectuals and a bunch of Nobel Prize Laureates, make common theoretical cause with “their” Clinton, give compassion to their Commander in Chief and demand protection for his (!) private sphere.
Reaching a verdict, with all its twists and turns, is thus by no means as easy as the Republicans had imagined. Anyhow, the opinion leaders of this party miscalculated the American political-moral sensorium – for the time being. Their calculation, the publication of the video tape recordings, was responded to with a big Yuck! by the country, and proved to be a sheer non-starter. What was supposed to hold the President up to ridicule only gave him a precipitous rise in sympathy. This too is not because American voters suddenly made a distinction between politics and other trash; on the contrary. Now that Clinton the individual stands for character, the absurdity of the personalization of politics reaches its high point: now this democratically mature people sees the entirety of American politics only in relation to the “Monica affair.” The Clinton administration, including its missile attacks in the Middle East, is perceived only under the criterion whether “their” frivolous President does his “job” properly. So a majority of Americans comes to the conclusion that Clinton, in fulfilling his official duties, should be bothered neither by the talents of a Monica Lewinsky nor those of a Kenneth Starr. Thus one is ready to morally weigh the politician Clinton against the individual Clinton, to give him good grades for his functioning as President and to “forgive” him his somewhat strange sexual behavior and the pertinent lies. So most Americans bring themselves to – idealistically – extend to their President the license to govern. Some people even try to actively support the most powerful President in the world by painting posters that say “Save the presidency, jail Kenneth Porno Starr” and stand with them in the wind and the rain outside the White House. Everything that their protégé sets on the agenda of world politics is a side issue that is found to be ok.