It's a helluva note when you go to a lot of trouble to whip up a juicy
presidential scandal and nobody pays attention. We have to feel a little
sorry for Cliff Jackson (Bill Clinton's old friend turned enemy) and David
Brock (who wrote the book bashing Anita Hill)as well as the shrillest man
in Congress, Rep. Robert Dornan, who served as cheerleader for their
They're the producers of what one Washington wit has called
"Fornigate"the revelation by two Arkansas state troopers that they didn't
have much time for anything else after they'd driven Gov. Clinton to all his
That's the name we scandal mongers give to really serious messing
The problemat least for Jackson, Brock, Dornan and Co.is that
nobody seems to give much of a damn.
I have explanations.
First, the timing was bad. It's hard to get worked up about someone
else's sex life when you're trying to do all your Christmas shopping in one
But even if you shopped early, you might not find the two troopers
very credible. Other troopers assigned to the governor's security staff have
contradicted their testimony. And according to the New York Times, both
have admitted falsifying a report of an accident last year so that one of
them could get a $100,000 insurance paymenta fraction of what they
might make from a Fornigate book in the works.
That, of course, doesn't mean the charges are false. The president
who, you remember, admitted during the '92 campaign that he'd been
guilty of marital "wrongdoing"seems incapable of a straightforward
denial. When reporters asked him directly if there was any truth to the
charges, the LA Times quoted him as saying "We
we did, if, the, the, I, I,
the stories are just as they have been said. They're outrageous and they're
State Department code-breakers are still working on that one.
The religious right will see our lack of moral outrage as just more
evidence the country has gone all to hell. But even though it goes against
everything we learned in Sunday School, here's the real reason the
firestorm hasn't ignited:
Americans know that some of our best recent presidents have been
fornigaters and they don't want to discourage Bill Clinton from joining that
Check the record.
FDR will probably be remembered as the most beloved and most
effective president of the century, JFK as the most attractive and
inspirational, LBJ as the most muscular twister of legislative arms.
All three messed around.
Lest you think messing around is a partisan practice, consider
Dwight David Eisenhowerhe whose presidential reputation has been
steadily rehabilitated during the last two decades and who may well be
considered the best Republican president since the first Roosevelt.
The Truth, Mainly
Ike messed around too.
On the other hand, bad news presidents like Richard Nixon, Herbert
Hoover, and Calvin Coolidge didn't mess around. There were rumors
about George Bush but they were never nailed down, and Ronald Reagan
was in a profession where messing around was so de rigueur that if
he indulged he couldn't really take personal credit for it. So neither of
them can be considered an exception to the rule.
What, you're probably asking, is the connection between fornigating
and effective governing? As a cautious monogamist who doesn't govern
anything very effectively, I can only speculate, but here's how it looks to
Both activities require a kind of boldness, a willingness to take risks,
to go beyond conventionality. It's the quality of character that made FDR a
"traitor to his class," that pushed ex-General Eisenhower to warn against
the military-industrial complex, that prompted a good old Southern boy
like LBJ to do more for civil rights than any president had done before.
And that's the same quality that moved Clinton to try to get fair
treatment for gays in the military, to go against his own party on NAFTA,
and to take on the NRA, the medical establishment, and the insurance
Fornigate hasn't taken hold because most us believe those
accomplishments are more important to the nation than whatever family
failures the president may be guilty ofespecially since his family seems to
have come to terms with them. Most of us weren't looking for a model for
our private lives when we voted for Clinton anyway; we were looking for a
government that might be on our side again.
Texans, Molly Ivins says, don't care what you do with your sex life so
long as it doesn't frighten the horses. If the Clintons can reform our health
care system into something more humane than we've got now, most of us
won't even worry about the horses.
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.