(posted Thursday, Dec. 3, 1998)
Starr's No Hero
In " The Back of Virtues" William Saletan writes, "[Kenneth Starr] absorbed the questions seriously, answered them in a straightforward manner, and offered clear explanations for nearly every aspect of his conduct that was brought into question."
I suggest that Saletan needs to check his recollection of Starr's testimony. The only clear and straightforward thing he said all day was "Good morning."
Seriously, I suggest you take a piece of graph paper and see how many times Starr even came close to answering, say, all three questions (admittedly long-winded as they were) posed by each Democrat. Particularly since among those that he clearly took advantage of the clock to avoid answering was the one posed right here by Steven Brill.
Saletan's article "The Back of Virtues" on Starr does point out the limitations of the "professional" legal approach, but it misses the fact that our federal prosecutorial practice incorporates all the moral problems that have become so apparent in the Clinton case. While Clinton will get off scot-free, many average citizens who have fallen into the net of the federal prosecutorial system will either lose fortunes in paying for legal aid or spend some time in the federal prison establishment. The case of Susan McDougal, not a perfect person, is a good example of the plight of the citizen who tries to stand up to the prosecutors. Perhaps it is not merely chance that "prosecutor" and "persecutor" are not easily distinguishable when spoken.
Perhaps the most important lesson of the Clinton affair is one that, I fear, will not be learned--that prosecutors have excessive power and that in the rush to win the game, they will often use it.
Seal Beach, Calif.
On Saletan's article "The Back of Virtues": Starr is proof of Louis Brandeis' observation that "the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding."
--Kenneth R. Mayer
Much of Saletan's analysis in "The Back of Virtues" seemed accurate and fair, especially when describing Starr's inability to distinguish legality from morality. But why give Starr the benefit of the doubt on his personal virtues? Why assume he is so pure of heart that his biggest flaw is that he is blinded by his conception of "right"? I watched almost all his Nov. 19 testimony, and he appeared to me a well-rehearsed, evasive, disingenuous agent of the anti-Clinton right wing. Not only did he refuse (cordially) to answer the most troubling questions about his investigation, but his irrelevant rambling effectively prevented Democrats (and David Kendall) from asking as many questions as they would have liked. He conveniently either shifted the blame for his prosecutorial abuses to the committee ("They asked me to present evidence of wrongdoing, not of innocence"), to technical legal hairsplitting ("We didn't hold Monica"--as if the prospect of 27 years of prison is consistent with "freedom to leave"), or to his own faulty memory. Saletan ought to hold Starr to the same standards of forthrightness and honesty to which he apparently holds Clinton and not allow Starr's cherubic smile to beguile him.
While I appreciate Walter Shapiro's honesty in his Nov. 23 "Chatterbox" item " Quotation of the Week," I think he misses the main point. Shapiro is a lone voice crying in the wilderness. The mainstream media give the Democrats a pass on most of their big lies. This gives them the freedom to keep telling the same lie over and over again until it becomes a "fact." I would like to think the American people are too smart to fall for this, but I'm old enough to remember P.T. Barnum. My main beef is that most media, being in the liberal camp, have no interest in honesty if it hurts their cause.
Please, I'm not shouting conspiracy. It is not conspiracy that fraternity brothers tend to think alike.
Re Michael Kinsley's Nov. 26 column " Turkey and Fixings": The symmetry of Clinton's guilt and Starr's guilt is about as balanced as your views of the left wing and the "far right radical wing"--it is completely unbalanced. Starr is embattled simply because he is viewed as an enemy of the White House--it is, therefore, the duty of all liberal ideologues to attack him as though he were the one who forced Clinton to lie under oath, suborn perjury, and obstruct justice. Come on! Let's take off the blinders and just look at the facts, ma'am. The real story of the ages is the left's utter lack of moral concern about having a characterless, virtueless wonk in the presidency, so long as his rhetoric rings bells. That's more important than his actions.
--W. Ronald Lewis