Spoken by an advisor to President to Clinton? No, spoken to President Nixon just before he resigned from office. However, we hear similar words today. Twice in my lifetime I have experienced my government paralyzed by presidential scandal.
I ask, "Why do we get in these predicaments?" Certainly today's politicians are not more pernicious. When George Washington was a politician President (instead of the "Father of Our Country") the press editorialized sonorously: "If ever a nation was debauched by a man, the American nation has been debauched by Washington." One general called him "that dark designing sordid ambitious vain proud arrogant and vindictive knave." (My, how repressed and mild is today's political invective.)
Going for the jugular in Robert Bork's, Clarence Thomas', and Lani Guinier's confirmation hearings released a highly corrosive and grim-lipped retaliatory spirit in our nation's political life. 'Borking' is now part of our language.
Especially potent, though, has been the marriage of the intensive intrusion into politicians' lives to new media realities:
What surer path is there to reporter stardom than to emulate the success of Bernstein and Woodward (a Pulitzer Prize, a book and a movie) by uncovering scandal, especially in the highest office?
Add to that the inability to keep the lid on news because of the instant transmission of news on the internet.
Finally, and most importantly, there is the insatiable need of TV to fill every non-advertising minute with news--every hour, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month. Even minor news is repeated and repeated until it escalates into major news which again is repeatedly repeated. Sprinkle in sex and scandal and audiences and advertising revenue increase. No wonder we, the viewers, are so weary. Yet, right now, even as I write, news managers face another twenty four hours to fill, and twenty four hours after that.
I believe, though, that we are getting what we want. Are the Republicans unhappy with the stew in which Clinton has placed himself? Did we hear protests of "No more!" from Democrats during the investigations of the Nixon presidency? Really, are any of us immune from the enticement of lurid scandal and sex?
New technology, politicians' veniality, and our own venial
craving for titillation all play their part. However, quoting
Shakespeare, "the fault is in ourselves."
--Robert H. Tucker
7 September 1998