Clinton and His Apologies
Are the Apologies Enough?

Amy Welborn
Featured Rightgrrl October 1998
September 11, 1998

Watching the Bill Clinton Apologapalooza over the past week, I've been entertaining myself, in between bouts of rage, by keeping what I call a Buzzword Count.

New ones bound through the airwaves every day: First it was healing, closure and "moving past all of this." Mid-week, we had to fight the urge to go look for maps, so often were we told about some "journey" (excuse me - painful journey) we were about to take. Now, we have the weekend to ponder the pain of Bill Clinton's "broken spirit" at the very same time we get to read tales of the vigor of his (purportedly) bent member.

Of course, superseding them all we can fully expect, will be the taglines of Team Clinton's Moral Blackmail Squad.
"Those without sin may cast the first stone."
"Judge not, lest ye be judged"
And, of course, the single most important, poignantly offered word in the whole sorry mess:
Well, forgive me for getting my dander up at such egregious misuse and manipulation of religious imagery that Clinton-defending types have been telling us for years has no place in public discourse.

President Clinton is begging for forgiveness. One by one, he's trotted in groups affected by his actions, reportedly apologized with great emotion and apparent sincerity, and they return the favor by standing at the microphones set up outside the White House and saying they forgive him and are ready to move on and getbacktothebusinessofthecountryliketheAmericanpeoplewantusto. I'm sure you've noticed that phrase has evolved into a single word in the contemporary political lexicon.

Various Congressional Democrats have forgiven him. His cabinet says it has. Hillary's forgiven him.

The implication is - Well, then, why can't you?

I can't help it, but when I hear that, all I can think of is teenagers. I've known a lot of them - hundreds of wary victims have passed through the religion classes I've taught in Catholic high schools, and I've spent literally hundreds of hours discussing morality with adolescents, hearing them rationalize, nit-pick and excuse. So this all has a painfully familiar ring to it:

"Hey, I said I was sorry! Can't I still go out tonight?"

Isn't it enough?

Those who make such an argument are trying to conflate two related, but at root, distinct issues: Forgiveness and consequences.

If my son (yeah, I get to live with teenagers too) blows the ever-tentative hold he has on privileges, believe me, he is always, invariably, really, really sorry.

But does that mean he's immediately trusted with the same privileges?

Of course not. He has to earn it back.

Most criminals are gosh-darn really sorry too, about their crimes. Does that mean they get spared the punishment for their crimes? Nope.

Bill Clinton, in my view, betrayed the public trust in very serious ways. He's sorry, and I'm glad. He should be. But does that mean he shouldn't bear consequences for what he's done?

Many people, on the internet and elsewhere, have (incorrectly) compared Bill Clinton to King David of Israel, who also committed a terrible sin. In case you've forgotten, David fell in love with a woman named Bathsheba, got her pregnant, and then sent her husband, Uriah, to the front lines of battle where he knew the poor guy would be killed.

Pretty bad. And the argument goes: God forgave David - David's recognized as a great king, right? Well, sheesh, if God can forgive, why the heck can't you?

What we forget is that David had to bear heavy consequences for his sin - first of all, he fully repented - I maintain that Bill Clinton's apologies are still so vague, we are not really sure what exactly he's expressing sorrow for - the affair? The pattern of behavior? Lying to us? Using his family and colleagues to lie for him? Sexual harassment?

The consequence David had to bear was profound - that first child of his and Bathsheba died. And when you look at the Old Testament, you see a strong strain of consequences held out by God to Israel - leaders and people who violate the Covenant by abusing power and oppressing the powerless must bear consequences of defeat, loss and their own powerlessness.

So we can forgive Bill Clinton the man, I suppose.

But does that mean he should still be President? Does that mean we can trust the one who so vehemently wagged his finger at us in January, lying with incredible energy and arrogance?

No. We don't have to, and don't let any pundits or defenders lay a guilt trip on you about it. It's fully within our rights as citizens and as moral people to forgive a man, but still insist that he leave the office he betrayed.

I said I was sorry! Isn't that enough?

Not this time, I'm afraid. Not this time.

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This article copyright © 1998 by Amy Welborn, and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.