I Am Truly Sorry

Oh, his words he cannot change
Lord knows, I'm the same
Lord help me, I can change
Won't you free, oh, free Bert, yeah!

This entire Clinton scandal has been very disorienting. When I first heard about it in January, I remember thinking he was doomed. If he really lied under oath about having an affair with Monica Lewinsky, then he would have to resign.

And a few days later, when he wagged his finger into the camera and declared, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," I thought that if it turns out he was lying, resignation would be the least of his worries. I assumed my fellow Americans would hunt him down with pointy sticks and drive him from the country.

By the time the president admitted he was a liar, I'd already whittled down an old tree branch. But then nothing really happened.

Oh sure, 24-hour television news stations have been prattling on endlessly, and senators have made speeches denouncing the president, and editorial pages across the nation have demanded his resignation. But ordinary Americans don't want him to resign and would prefer that the whole thing simply go away.

Earlier this month, when Clinton came to South Florida during the East Coast leg of his national apology tour, he was warmly received. Our own mayor, Alex Penelas, greeted him at the airport, along with a raft of other elected officials. When the president spoke a short time later at a fundraiser, he was introduced by Daryl Jones. "Don't let him stand out there on his own to fight this fight alone," Jones exhorted the crowd. "Let him know that we are with him 1000 percent. It is time for this country to quit cannibalizing itself and stop cannibalizing its leaders."

Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay -- the only man in the world who makes Al Gore seem funky -- stood right by Clinton's side during the speech. Maryland's gubernatorial candidate had the decency to make up some sort of a lame excuse in order to cancel his outing with Clinton. But not Buddy. He's as loyal as the president's dog.

I concluded that the only way local Democrats would back away from the president was if they discovered he had used a Cuban cigar when he turned Lewinsky into a human humidor.

In my search for answers, I've been reading folks like the Herald's Robert Steinback, who has been preaching about America's "new morality." In July, for instance, he rationalized Clinton's conduct by comparing it to someone who placed a bet on the Super Bowl, or told a client he'd been caught in traffic when he'd really overslept, or kicked a golf ball out of the rough, or deliberately chose not to feed a parking meter. Like the president's transgression, these too were immoral acts, Steinback mused, but we wouldn't want someone thrown out of office for such petty offenses. "I'm sorry, but I'm finding it hard to get worked up about this case of shocking immorality," Steinback wrote regarding the Clinton-Lewinsky affair.

The same day that particular Steinback dispatch appeared, the Herald columnist and I participated in a panel discussion about ethics -- a hot topic in South Florida for obvious reasons. At the time, I told Steinback I thought he was full of hooey.

Now I'm not so sure.
Maybe it is acceptable for the president to shake his finger at me and lie as long as I've got money in my pocket and the economy is booming. Maybe demeaning the presidency and lying under oath in a court proceeding and encouraging other people to lie is no big deal. The president's a bum. So what?

I guess I owe Steinback an apology as well. Sorry, Bob. You were right, and for that I'm truly sorry.

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