Inappropriate Response

By Karen Hall

To err is human. To forgive, in some cases, is missing the point.

Bill Clinton may have the forgiveness of every other soul in the country (not that heís ever really asked for it) but he does not have mine. And he never will, unless a day comes when he is actually sorry.

Forgiveness is a two-step process Ė a fact that seems to have eluded Rev. Jackson and several of our other vocal, self-proclaimed moral leaders. Step one is when the guilty party repents: he/she genuinely feels truly rotten about whatever transgression he/she has committed. This is quite different from asking forgiveness because he/she has been chased up a tree and threatened with DNA evidence. In other words, an apology based on forensics is jut not gonna to do it for me.

For the record, I donít want to see the president impeached. He probably should be. Perjury is perjury, and "I donít remember being in a room alone with her" is a long way from "improper contact", unless said contact took place through a keyhole, andÖwell, letís just say that if that were feasible, I donít Clintonís past would be strewn with quite so many weepy, jilted females. At any rate, I donít want him to be impeached for reasons that have nothing to do with the legal system. I simply think it would be too easy for him. I donít want him off somewhere playing golf with O.J. and the Ramseys. I want him to spend a year-and-a-half having to look us in the collective eye, now that we know he lied. Finishing his term in what amounts to a public stockade seems like a very fitting punishment.

Frankly, though, Bill Clinton is not my primary concern right now. I have always suspected he was a sleaze, and other than the satisfaction of being vindicated, I am done with wasting emotion on him. Hereís what Iím upset about: us. I am upset about the number of people in this country who apparently think "obstructed justice" is something akin to "used the wrong fork at a state dinner" on the list of presidential no-noís. I am upset about feminists who are vehemently defending this man, who has consistently upheld and reinforced the "nuts and sluts" image we have been fighting for decades. I am upset about all the congressmen who are waiting with open arms, promising him they will kill the fatted calf and rejoice as soon as this nonsense is over. (I canít help wondering how many of them are motivated by charity, compassion and the good of the nation, and how many of them are motivated by the thought of their DNA turning up on cocktail dresses across America.)

We seem to be rewriting all sorts of rules and definitions, to make them more user-friendly. Lying about sex is now a separate category of lying, and one that doesnít really count because we all do it. Obstruction of justice isnít illegal if the only crime was perjury involving the above-mentioned category of non-lying. And we now have a whole new definition of adultery: it only refers to actual penetration in the missionary position between two non-consenting adults. (Consenting adults seem to have been granted wholesale immunity from sin.) Anything else is not sex. It is simply "inappropriate behavior."

(I find myself longing for the good old days, when "inappropriate behavior" was pointing out a pubic hair on the top of a Coke can.)

I used to have a sign in my office that read: "When all else fails, lower your standards." Is that what we have decided to do? Have we simply grown so weary of corruption, weíve decided to declare moral ideals worthless, since no one can live up to them anyway? I hear a lot of people yammering about "moving on" and "putting this behind us," but how, exactly, do we do that? Doesnít every nuance of this ordeal (including our eagerness to have it just go away) set the tone for what lies ahead? Arenít we sending a message to future presidents: we donít mind if you shake your finger at us and, in a contemptuous tone, tell us a blatant whopper Ė as long as you offer a half-assed acknowledgment of it when youíre finally cornered and as long as interest rates donít go up in the meantime?

And then thereís the scary question. The one that haunts me the loudest. The one Iím not really sure I want answered.

What would a president have to do -- these days and in a good economy -- to make us stand up and say, "This is wrong, and it matters."