Letters from our readers.
Oct. 2 1998 3:30 AM

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Penalizing the Prez

David Plotz's piece "The Case for Community Service for Clinton" advances an excellent analysis of the political requirements for an acceptable punishment to accompany censure, if indeed censure is chosen in lieu of impeachment. The key point is that there must be a humbling element, without complete humiliation, and that a purely financial penalty such as a fine would not be enough.

One approach worth considering is the loss of Clinton's post-presidential privileges. I am thinking particularly of the post-presidential pension and office expense allowances. Beyond any actual financial loss (which Clinton could probably recoup with a high-paying post-presidential job) there is likely to be a perceived element of strong moral rebuke associated with the forfeiture of retirement benefits. Perceived analogies would be to "rogue cops" who are not prosecuted but must resign from the force and lose their pension (at least on television). Loss of office expense allowances would carry an implicit message that, while we don't want to force you out of office, we really don't want to hold you out as an honored ex-president. Indeed, even Richard Nixon did not suffer these two penalties.

In essence, while Clinton would not be forced to resign or leave office, he would suffer a penalty that is often associated in the public mind with officials who are required to resign to avoid being removed or criminally prosecuted. The penalty, in effect, would be bad spin.


--Donald B. SussweinBethesda, Md.

Lip Service

Re David Plotz's piece "The Case for Community Service for Clinton": There's only one kind of service he understands, and he has to have someone else do that!

--James L. BoalsLancaster, Pa.


Trapped in Monicagate

Michael Kinsley writes in his Sept. 28 "Dialogue" entry: "And there's no question whether Slate readers want more Monica. Their e-mail says no no, but their mouse clicks say yes yes." This is not a contradiction. Rather, it is an extension of a well-known game theory model called "The Prisoner's Dilemma."

Take the following example: Suppose the world consisted of only two people. If both know nothing about Monica, then both are happy. If both have information about Monica, then both are unhappy. If one has information about Monica, then that one is happy, but the other one is very unhappy, since he or she is at a disadvantage. Now, assume that information about Monica is published. Unless the two people have an agreement not to read anything about Monica, both defend against extreme unhappiness by reading the info, settling for moderate unhappiness. Expand this to hundreds of millions of people, and it's obvious that no agreement can hold, especially when some of them actually do want the information.

Our situation is comparable to the situation Slate now faces about whether to print damning information about the hypocritical politician. If you don't print it, someone else might beat you to it, and you'll have to talk about it anyway. Does this mean that you will be happier when the information comes out?


--Andrew BermanSeattle

Working Relationships

Considering Michael Kinsley's defense in the "Politicians and Privacy" dialogue, I would add that although I do not find invasions of privacy acceptable, people do wish to know something about the relationship between the individual and his or her work.

Biographical criticism is important, not only for the three reasons that Kinsley expressed in his initial argument, especially the point on hypocrisy, but for historical reasons. We have no problem accepting biographical criteria for literature. In fact, there is an entire school of criticism devoted to the relationship between author and work. Why shouldn't politicians' lives be open to examination in the same way?


For historical reasons, attention should be paid to the private life of the politician or to the idea of the "work" as an expression of the politician's inner being. If it turns out that the politician is a fraud or a hypocrite, we should be able to know this--as long as the methods of revealing such knowledge do not invade the person's privacy in an unfair or Kenneth Starr-like way.

--Jacque MartinParis

Nuts to Us

As one with family members whose lives are literally threatened by peanuts in their environment, I fail to find the humor in Seth Stevenson's article "Nuttiness" on the subject today. If you think this is amusing, think how much fun you could have with paraplegics or muscular dystrophy issues--much bigger universe, many more sniggering opportunities. A sad, adolescent performance you should be ashamed of.

--Ed TennyWashington

Nuts to Everyone

Peanuts are a wonderful source of nutrition, et al., for some 99 percent of our population, not to mention the fact that peanut products are easy to keep, very popular, and generally inexpensive!

Parents and their children must be responsible for determining, as early as possible, which allergic reactions will be a part of their lives. It is absurd to rely upon any "controlling legal authority" to do that for you!

Peanuts and their products are astoundingly good for us, as is the industry that keeps them before us. Killing either on the basis of gene pool considerations for fewer than 1 percent of the population would be criminal.

--Donald B. HammondAlexandria, Va.

The Killer Nut

Peanuts can kill and have killed. This is not a laughing matter.

--William C. Siroty, M.D.Board Certified, Allergy and ImmunologyMason, N.H.

Really, Ms. Prudie!

I do not read "Dear Prudence" as a rule. However, this morning I dipped into the column to see if I was missing anything, and I found a letter citing a previous Prudie column, saying, "Prudie finds the appellation 'Ms.' ridiculous and crosses it out whenever possible, believing that single women are 'Miss' and married ones are 'Mrs.' (The nice thing about divorce is that then you get to choose between the two forms of address.)"

Does Prudie mean to imply that women are not equal to men in this society and that therefore it is important to know a woman's marital status immediately, while men are allowed to remain judged for who and what they are, regardless of their marital status? I find this inane and the title "Ms." an excellent solution to women's entry into equality in the workplace and society. I do not think it is anyone's business whether or not I am married (I am) and have kept my "maiden" name as many married women now do. I am sorry to say that the Dear Prudence column remains one I will not visit in the future and, I suspect, one that does not have the highest ratings among the Slate offerings.

--Ms. M. CurtisLondon, England

Address your e-mail to the editors to letters@slate.com. All writers must include their address and daytime phone number (for confirmation only).