In every political crisis there is a moment of truth. There is a crossroads. There is a point at which you have to decide.
Do I cop out?
Do I settle?
Do I cut my losses?
Do I go public, take my hit and end it, or do I hang tough and brazen it out?
In January, Clinton was faced with that choice.
The Monica Lewinsky matter was exploding. He either had to confess and go into damage control or take the big risk and stonewall it.
He decided to stonewall it. He didn’t have to. If he confessed, he would have been hurt politically, but it most certainly wouldn’t have been fatal.
In retrospect, he made the wrong choice. Once he decide to dig in, he lost control of events. He could have negotiated earlier and didn’t. Now that option is gone. Holding the story together required the complicity, or at least the acquiescence, of more and more people. As he included more people, it became more and more difficult to keep the story inside.
Clinton was defeated by a peculiar quirk of his own personality. He is an enormous risk taker. He’s one of these people who lives life right on the edge. He seldom takes the safe way out.
It isn’t as if he didn’t know the risks. Starr and the grand jury were buzzing around, and Starr was prepared to spend the entire U.S. Treasury to get him. The Paula Jones case was ongoing and in discovery. Some right-wing kooks were pouring in millions to try to get something on him. The head of the FBI was parading back and forth to the hill trying to kiss up to Congress and get himself some job security. You would think it would be a time to be cool, real cool.
But not our boy Bill. Apparently, all this action merely got him excited.
I’m convinced politicians are a different breed from the rest of us, and even among politicians Bill Clinton is unique. They’re all risk takers, but none is a bigger risk taker than President Bill. It makes you suspect they need that kind of risk so they know they’re alive.
Most people in Clinton’s position wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. They’d be waking up in a cold sweat, losing their appetite, finding it hard to concentrate. He seemed to thrive on it, at least until very, very recently. Now we’re seeing some signs of wear and tear, but he’s the original comeback kid, and I wouldn’t count him out yet.
We can’t forget that the Republicans in Congress are also politicians, and many of them are big risk takers also. They want to score the knockout punch. They could take the smart way out and censure Clinton and end it. The country would be happy and relieved. My guess is that they won’t. They’ll try and go for the big one. But events could spin out of control for them also.
If the Republicans decide to go for it, to impeach Clinton, I’m predicting we’re going to see a tidal wave of disclosures about infidelity streaming out of Congress. The little amenities paid for by the lobbyists are going to come leaking out. Name, rank and serial numbers of bedmates on Congressional payrolls are going to be running in the mainline press. The gays are going to be outed, the alcoholics and drug addicted exposed. You’re going to know things about your elected representatives you never wanted to know. If it happens, it will spill over to all of us.
Unfortunately, both Clinton and Starr have changed the rules of the game, probably forever. And not just in Washington. That change is going to spill over into California, Los Angeles and ultimately Malibu.