Only in America

On September 21, world leaders gave President Bill Clinton a standing ovation at the United Nations. A few days earlier, Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic, stood perplexed at the president’s side as reporters questioned Clinton’s moral authority to govern; Mr. Havel reiterated his friendship for the besieged Clinton. Ditto Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s national hero and retiring president, as he received the Congressional Gold Medal from Clinton before a gathering of Congress.

Are these world leaders moral nihilists?

Or are they simply indifferent to our national obsession with Monica Lewinsky, Kenneth Starr, Henry Hyde, David Kendall, Newt Gingrich, Paula Jones, and, oh yes, Bill and Hillary Clinton?

Or could there be something truly terrifying for the rest of the world in watching the one and only superpower preoccupied with salacious sex? There are, after all, more important problems facing the world than either the sins or the fate of Bill Clinton: the economies of Japan, Brazil, and Southeast Asia; the political and economic shambles in Russia; the bloodletting in Kosovo; the barely breathing peace talks in the Middle East; the precarious state of a globalized economy; the coming shift to a single currency in Europe, to name but a few.

World leaders, and everyone else, are right to worry. The American political elite-politicians, journalists, lawyers-seem driven by interests that have little to do with governance, the Constitution, or the state of the world. For some, it is the destruction of Bill Clinton, rogue, scoundrel, and apparent penitent. For others, it is bitter partisanship magnified by congressional elections. And for still others, it seems simply to be the prurient pursuit of everything we already know.

In the minutes before the Clinton videotape was released and televised on September 21 (and shortly before the standing ovation at the UN), CNN anchors Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff intoned the holy words, "momentous" and "historic." In contrast, a word that befits their pompous gravitas (and that of their fellow anchors) might be "absurd," or even "silly." This is not a Greek tragedy. It is a tawdry soap opera. Time to turn off the TV? Time to turn our attention to those genuinely historic and momentous issues that beset those world leaders?

Published in the 1998-10-09 issue: 
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