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Absence of shame, flight from decency

When Chairman Henry Hyde announced that he would accede to the Democrats’ demand to call Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, my brother issued the seemingly facetious prediction that committee Democrats would accuse Starr of perjury in the course of his testimony. We all knew that Conyers, Frank et al would do what they could to make a spectacle of Starr and his alleged Gestapo investigative tactics. But accuse him of perjury? No way.

Inquisitor, Zoe Lofgren, asked Starr whether in 1997 he had been made aware of the existence of a taped conversation of a woman who claimed to have had sexual relations with the president. The congresswoman did not specify which woman to whom she may have been referring. But her tone implied that Starr had done something indescribably evil and had been trying to cover it up. When Starr appeared to be nonplussed she made no effort to clarify; instead she escalated her accusatory zeal.

Starr, mindful that he, not Bill Clinton, was the principal target of the hearing, conferred with his colleagues before committing to a definitive response. After the consultation he testified that he was aware of no such incident.

Democrats also accused Starr of duplicity in failing to emphasize that Monica testified that no one asked her to lie. But his referral acknowledged that there was no express request that she lie. There was, however, the functional equivalent of such a request when, for example, Bill Clinton convinced her that if they each denied the incident no one could prove it occurred.

On several occasions Starr admitted that he did not have first-hand knowledge of certain incidents because he had not been present during much of the questioning or court proceedings. Consequently, he was unsure about answers to particular questions and would have to “search his recollection.” This stands in sharp contrast to Bill Clinton, who professed no memory as to events he was personally involved in and which were of the type — such as being alone during sex — that are extremely unforgettable.

But the granddaddy of all Starr’s alleged forensic prevarications was his characterization of the FBI recording of Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky as consensual. Congressional Democrats and other Clinton apologists feigned indignation at this, citing it as irrefutable proof that Starr is every bit as beguiling as his prey.

When this odious charge was leveled on a cable talk show not one person objected. Starr was referring to the fact that the taping was legally permissible because one of the parties to the conversations, Linda Tripp, consented to the taping. Does there exist any competent person who actually believes that Ken Starr was insinuating that Monica had also consented to the surreptitious taping of her own conversations? Wiring Linda Tripp would have been pointless had Monica been aware that she was being recorded. Conspiring against oneself would be an oddity too bizarre even for this scandal.

In a modestly rational world this little exercise in demonstrating the preposterousness of accusing Starr of deceit would be unnecessary. The allegations would be shrugged off as too ludicrous to warrant the dignity of a denial. But so would charges that Republicans want to starve school children and poison our air and water. And so would assertions that Clinton did not commit multiple perjuries. And so would Maxine Waters’ implication that Ken Starr committed perjury.

Historian Paul Johnson, in his “Enemies of Society” (1977), presciently observed that, “One principal way in which our civilization is rendered vulnerable to the assaults of its enemies (and false friends) is by the undermining of linguistic truth. [Language] is the bloodstream of our culture, the real infrastructure of civilization … Words can be prostituted and debauched, damaged by use, misuse or intent, rendered untruthful or treacherous, devalued or aggrandized, stood, as it were, on their heads, or turned inside out. … So long as we have language, we cannot be wholly enslaved, or wholly uncivilized. … Language is the framework of reason; unless it is ordered and related to truth, reason cannot express itself.”

Bill Clinton, in his sworn testimony and his many public pronouncements has done his best to undermine linguistic truth. But almost more reprehensible than Clinton’s lies are those of his Democratic defenders. If not more reprehensible, then certainly more dangerous. The lies of one politician, even the president, by themselves are probably incapable of corrupting the entire body politic. But the coordinated, collective lies of an entire party’s leadership threaten our very civilization in the long run.

It is past time for decent people, for patriots, to express their unmitigated outrage at the ongoing assault on our language, our reason, our values, our culture and our civilization itself.