Is anyone else sick of hearing Katie Couric discuss semen-spotted dresses? Does anyone else find graphic discussion by pontificating network anchors about presumed Presidential sexual behavior unseemly? The other day, I picked up a newspaper: Monica Lewinsky had the front page pretty much to herself, the fact that…
Is anyone else sick of hearing Katie Couric discuss semen-spotted dresses? Does anyone else find graphic discussion by pontificating network anchors about presumed Presidential sexual behavior unseemly? The other day, I picked up a newspaper: Monica Lewinsky had the front page pretty much to herself, the fact that the General Motors strike had finally been settled was on page six.
How did we get to the point where news and salacious gossip are indistinguishable, where descriptions of sexual behavior fill the so-called "mainstream" media, where America’s preoccupation with the sexual peccadillos of our elected officials is a standing joke in Europe?
However we got here, it isn’t going to get better until we Americans recognize and respect the distinction between sin and crime.
Now, many criminal acts are also sins in the eyes of most religions. Murder, theft and similar behaviors are condemned by both church and state. But the obverse is not necessarily true: adultery, lying to your boss, failing to honor your father and mother, blasphemy — are not and should not be regarded as criminal behavior, even though most of us consider them morally wrong. Many religions believe that eating pork or drinking alcohol is sinful. Only the most ardent theocrat would advocate use of the power of the state to enforce personal virtue. (Indeed, moral theologians would argue that forced "good" behavior cannot genuinely be good, because it is not the result of free will–but that is a different argument.)
Our legal system (unlike, say, Iran’s) limits government’s role to issues of public safety. So while lying is not a crime, fraud and perjury are. Sex between consenting adults is not a crime, but coerced sex is. You can get drunk in your own home if you are so inclined, but don’t get behind the wheel of a car where you endanger others. In a free country, the government should not get involved unless there is real or threatened harm to a nonconsenting third party.
Polls suggest that most Americans believed Clinton to be a womanizer ever since Gennifer Flowers and long before Ken Starr spent $40,000,000 of our tax dollars. We elected him anyway. Twice. As a Republican, I can say "I told you so," but right or wrong, our recourse when we disapprove of a candidate’s noncriminal behavior is political. It is at the ballot box. When we empower a federal prosecutor to delve into sexual behavior, we end up demeaning both the political office and the criminal justice process.
While it isn’t Whitewater (remember that land deal Starr was actually hired to investigate?) Clinton probably lied under oath about his sexual escapades, and that technically brings him within the category subject to legal sanction. But can any of us be proud of the process that has given us the semen spotted dress and, potentially, a constitutional crisis?