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Trapped in a National Nightmare

By Rustin C. Silverstein

It's time we admit it. This dog just won't wag.

I didn't want to write about Monica Lewinsky today. Like everyone else, I feel we've had enough. But this scandal just won't leave us alone.

It lingers in our mind despite the fact that there are other things deserving of our attention. The news gods, from their perch high atop the CNN building in Atlanta, have been hurling down one "important" story after another--all in the name of calling our bluff about our desire to focus on what "really matters." In the span of about a month, they gave us: a new war on terrorism, Russia on the brink, a shaky stock market and even a historic race to topple our national pastime's most storied record.

But nothing stuck--except Monica. We can't avoid the scandal because it's become too personal. Although the President claims "it's nobody's business but ours," referring to his family, in this age of total media immersion, his business is our business. You can't invite someone into your home every night on TV, talk about him for years over dinner and maybe even vote for him without feeling involved when he takes such a disgraceful fall.

I find myself thinking back to what was going on when the President was engaging in his now famous soft-porn escapades. The public image Clinton has presented seems both absurd and hypocritical when considered along side his now public private life. My thoughts keep returning to two glaring ironies that seem particularly striking given the timing of the affair.

First, there's the tragic coincidence that the source of Clinton's greatest political triumph as President may also be the cause of his undoing. Clinton and Lewinsky started their flirtation during the famous government shutdown of 1995. As much of the permanent White House staff was forced to stay home, many of the unpaid White House interns assumed their responsibilities.

Ironically, the government shutdown is often viewed as the best thing to happen to Bill Clinton politically during his first term. By demonstrating the excessiveness and "extremism" of the new Republican Congressional leaders and by reminding people that government actually does matter, the shutdown scared voters back to Clinton and he cruised to a second term. Now, the events of that same week mar that second term and the President's place in history.

Second, more personally, around the same time as the government shutdown and the beginning of the liaison, I traveled to New Hampshire to campaign for the President. We were told to pass out glossy pamphlets featuring a thoughtful-looking Bill Clinton with the slogan "Our Families, Our Values." The campaign worker distributing the pamphlets noted the slogan and remarked, "It's good to see that we've been able to take back the 'family values' issue from the Republicans."

Ironically, at perhaps that same moment in Washington, the President may have been exhibiting the sort of values you might find in a glossy pamphlet wrapped in brown paper at the newstand. Not only do those of us who trudged through the snows of New Hampshire that day feel like fools, but we're faced with the specter of a Democratic Party that has, in George Stephanopoulos' words, become "the party of consensual sex with interns and lying about it." Democrats must now struggle to regain the family values mantle recklessly surrendered by their leader.

Avoiding the issue is no longer an option--its consequences are too great and its impact too personal. The chances of the scandal leaving our thoughts are no greater than the chances of it clearing off the front page. Yet, facing it becomes unbearable given the level of detail we now know. Even the jokes don't seem funny anymore.

Upon Richard Nixon's resignation, Gerald Ford claimed that "our long national nightmare is over." At this point, Clinton's resignation or impeachment would prematurely leave us in a limbo of confusion and cynicism--unfair to the people who elected him and inconsistent with our constitutional system. In the meantime, we are left in this nightmare, wondering how we will ever get out. Rustin C. Silverstein '99 is a government concentrator in Lowell House. His column will appear bi-weekly.

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