Those Were the Days

Conniff and Frum

Those Were the Days

Conniff and Frum

Those Were the Days
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Aug. 21 1998 10:08 PM

Conniff and Frum

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Dear Ruth:

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Well I've enjoyed it too, and I wish you a nice holiday. I hope that now we can meet as fellow-citizens of Washington, DC, and not merely as citizens of cyber-space.

Was it more civilized when nobody asked JFK about his sex life? Well, it depends on your point of view. If the feminists hadn't invented sexual harassment law, nobody would ever have asked Bill Clinton either. All this originated, as you'll recall, with the Paula Jones lawsuit. In JFK's time, what happened to Jones--and I believe her story, don't you?--might have been considered indecent exposure, but would have given rise to no civil claim. So no lawsuit, no deposition, no perjury. It wasn't Ken Starr who shredded sexual privacy: it was the revolution in law wrought by feminist jurisprudence over the past 10 years.

Over the past 35 years, we have evolved from a regime of strict moral standards, laxly enforced, to a regime of permissive standards, strictly enforced. If you're telling me you liked the old ways better, I'll heartily agree. But I'll remind you that the flip side of JFK getting a bye on his womanizing was Nelson Rockefeller losing the Republican presidential nomination in 1964 for divorcing his wife.

I am actually inclined to doubt that had JFK lived his full eight years, he would have escaped without a searing sex scandal. The women's rights movement was already brewing, and I don't think that a man who treated women as geishas could have remained the paladin of liberalism in 1967-68. But I'll pay the Americans of 1960 this compliment--whatever they would have thought of JFK's sexual life, had they known about it, they would have readily recognized the difference between a president--whether JFK or Clinton--perjuring himself to conceal a perjury arising from sexual misconduct and President Eisenhower lying about the U-2 at a press conference to protect American intelligence gathering techniques. And so, I think, should we all.

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Have a lovely summer and let me know when you're ready to claim your forfeit.

DF

 

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Ruth Conniff is Washington editor of Progressive magazine. David Frum is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard. He is the author of What's Right: The New Conservative Majority and the Remaking of America.