Forgive and Forget?

Aug. 3 1998 3:30 AM

Forgive and Forget?

Clinton measures his last option.

(Continued from Page 1)

2) Clinton has the rhetorical grace to pull off such an apology in a way that doesn't seem phony (he'll blame it on his own big heart, his fierce desire not to hurt wife and child).

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And most important: 3) An apology cuts off Starr's investigations at the knees. Without an apology, Clinton is doomed to enervating, fratricidal, interminable impeachment hearings. An apology would prevent them. The Flytrap investigation is the only part of Starr's work that America a) understands and b) actually cares about. Would an admission of lying about Monica weaken Clinton's claims in the other Starr matters? I doubt it. After a mea culpa, the public or Congress are unlikely to muster much enthusiasm for chasing Clinton through the dull, impenetrable thickets of Whitewater, Travelgate, and Filegate. Even if Republicans decide later that they don't actually forgive and forget, it may be too late. An apology could wipe away all the scandals but campaign finance.

There is no sign yet that the administration is tempted by mea culpa/Forgive and Forget. All leaks out of the White House suggest that the president is sticking to his denial. Lanny Davis, the closest thing to an official source who is talking, deflected the idea of an apology when quizzed about it. But if the administration isn't buying, its allies are. Democrats are matching Republicans big heart for big heart. Barney Frank, the president's best friend in the House, has suggested that Clinton should 'fess up if he had an affair, as has Leon Panetta. On This Week, George Stephanopoulos all but implored his former boss to cut his losses and apologize.

Will the White House come around? If I were a betting man, I would wager that during this week, other prominent Democrats--as they did when Clinton hesitated over Starr's subpoena--will make increasingly obvious pleas for Clinton to apologize. And, unless the dress is a red (navy blue) herring, I would wager that Clinton will listen. Surely he's willing to tarnish the legacy he cares so much about in order to save his presidency.

Tomorrow: more on the dress.

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