FORGIVENESS, THE SEQUEL

By Karen Hall

President Clinton has become an expert on forgiveness. At least, thatís what todayís paper tells me. "Iím becoming an expert in this business of asking forgiveness," he told a group of his most ardent supporters. (Upwards of 400 people who had cometo a wood-shingled chapel on Marthaís Vineyard to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the civil rights march on Washington. Gee, that took guts.) "It gets a little easier the more you do it."

Okay. Iím a little dense and I certainly realize there may be some nuances of politics that I occasionally miss out on. Can someone, anyone, show me where the man has ever apologized?

Apparently Bill Clinton believes that "apology" means never having to say "Iím sorry."

The talking puppets on CNN try to convince me that Clinton has apologized. "He said he was wrong," they say. "What do you want him to do. Open a vein?" Well, yes. Iíd consider that a great start. He has certainly opened a vein for the rest of us, from which has flown a lot of trust and respect for the office and hope and belief in the greatness of this man, who in fact turns out to be barely more than a common pervert. In any other job I can think of, apologizing would not even have kept him from being fired.

But remind me again, when did he apologize?

See, the problem I have with "he said he was wrong" is that admitting youíre wrong about something and admitting you are sorry about it are two different things. It was wrong of me to sneak out of work one day in 1980, with a suitcase, to board a bus for San Diego to see Bruce Springsteen. But I have never been a bit sorry.

I do believe that the man is sorry. Heís sorry he got caught. Heís sorry he canít kick Ken Starrís little self-righteous ass. Heís very sorry that he ended up in a position of having to go on national television and tell the country that he had been lying when he wagged his finger in our collective face and said, "Now you listen and you listen good."

The fact is, if he were sorry for what he should be sorry for Ė what he has put this country through and will continue to put it through Ė we would be hearing a different tone out of him. Iíve seen people who are genuinely sorry upon realizing a mistake, upon realizing they have hurt someone. Iíve been one of those people. I know what it feels like and I know what it looks like. And I sure as hell know I havenít seen that from him.

If he were really sorry, he would resign. He would know that it is not fair to have a country wondering whether we are bombing other countries because it is vital to national security or because he wants to get our attention off of his scandalous behavior. (Okay. In fairness, even I have trouble seeing Monica as the face that launched a thousand cruise missiles. But remind me again, who did we bomb two days after terrorists blew up the World Trade Center?) If he were really sorry, his testosterone tournament with Ken Starr would be a moot point now. Heíd be too busy feeling lousy about his own behavior to be attacking the opposition.

Ronald Gill, an attorney from Greenburg, N.Y., is quoted in the New York Times as having said, "[The president] has not fully dealt with that issue and has a way to go, but I think he very much wants forgiveness." I hate to be a dog with a bone on this, but people who want forgiveness say things like, "Iím sorry" and "Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?" What President Clinton "very much wants" is to be liked. Once again, a world of difference.

Granted, I canít read the manís mind or his heart. Like everyone else, I can only judge his state of penitence by what he says (or doesnít say) and what his demeanor is as he says it. But I think he gave himself away in this speech, very clearly. You donít even have to read between the lines.

Because, as anyone who has ever really asked for forgiveness can tell youÖ

Öit never ever gets any easier.