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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cultural flip flop

I was driving home from work a couple of days ago, listening to Fresh Air on NPR as Terry Gross interviewed Ken Gormley, the author of The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr.

I'll tell you right off the bat, I just know that Terry and I wouldn't get along all that well. I like her show - she's a good radio interviewer, but she leans way too far left for my comfort. That said, her interview with Gormley was interesting fare.

I don't have a lot of time for recreational reading but Gross' interview on Tuesday night was inspiring enough for me to almost buy Gormley's book. You can read about the interview here, if you're so inclined.

What I got out of the interview is that whatever evidence of misconduct Ken Starr and others dug up about the once-Governor of Arkansas and then-President of the United States Clinton, the most important outcome of the Starr investigations and subsequent impeachment hearings was the polarizing effect they had on American politics.

In other words, it was purely incidental that Bill Clinton continued to live an immoral and unarguably adulterous lifestyle while rising to and occupying the most powerful office in the world. The largest apparent travesty was the violent wedge that drove Republicans and Democrats farther apart - and how that continued chasm colors every effort to pass legislation today.

Although I, perhaps naively, believe that our President should be above the moral fray - notwithstanding Carter's admission to Playboy that he had committed adultery in his heart - most people I spoke with at the time considered Clinton's dalliances inappropriate but nothing to get worked up about. Sort of a boys will be boys attitude; consenting adults, and that sort of thing.

Fast forward to the present...

Tiger Woods has been vilified in the press for pretty much the same behavior for which we gave our 42nd President a pass. Whoa. What changed?

Were Tiger's objets de l'amour consenting adults? Check

Was Tiger in a powerful, public position? Perhaps a check - certainly Tiger's brand and image made him the most recognizable sportsman worldwide.

Was a wife in the dark as to her husband's behavior? Debatable - who knows what Hillary knew? But the public revelations of said behavior certainly warrant a check.

Tomorrow, Tiger is making his first public statement since revelations about his numerous dalliances surfaced. It will not be a press-conference, per se; more along the lines of round one of seeking forgiveness, regaining public approval, and Tiger positioning himself to move on.

To Tiger I say, "Be patient."

Bill Clinton is all over the place these days. Raking in public speaking fees, heading up worldwide charitable organizations, hanging out with decision makers at international conferences.

Water off a duck's back.

People want to love Tiger. Everyone loves a success story. But if there's one thing I've learned about the always-fickle American public, it's this: As much as we root for someone to succeed, we are equally quick to turn on them like a pack a snarling hyenas. An ugly truth to be sure, but the ugliness doesn't make it any less true.

What's my point? If we can forgive Mr. Clinton for lighting his cigar in the nation's living room, certainly we can forgive a mere golfer; someone who makes his living hitting a little white ball.

I don't know. Am I crazy? What do you think?


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