Forgive and Forget?

Aug. 3 1998 3:30 AM

Forgive and Forget?

Clinton measures his last option.

The dress, the dress. Hold your horses for the dress. I'll get to it later.

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First, the new Flytrap motto, brought to you by kindly inquisitor Sen. Orrin Hatch: "We are a forgiving people."

David Plotz David Plotz

David Plotz is Slate's editor at large. He's the author of The Genius Factory and Good Book.

As Flytrap II enters Week II, it is segueing gracefully into the second stage of scandal: The initial glee of Clinton's enemies has matured into thoughtful magnanimity. The sound of young conservatives baying for DNA has subsided. If last week's theme was high dudgeon, this week's will be high-mindedness. The Republicans' new strategy seems to be: (Possibly) Forgive and (Maybe) Forget.

The strategy, which Hatch, Sen. Arlen Specter, Bob Novak, and others hinted at over the weekend, seems to go like this:

The president is trapped, and everyone else is embarrassed. The only remedy is a presidential mea culpa (or rather, since the ones pushing the culpa are not the person who would actually apologize, a tua culpa). If Clinton admits his affair to the grand jury and the American public, explains that he lied to protect his daughter and wife, and apologizes with sufficient breadth and--this is important--abjectness, then, well, we'll probably forgive him and call off the dogs. On Meet the Press, Hatch said that he and House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde (who would supervise impeachment proceedings) are inclined to be forgiving (unless, of course, there is evidence of other high crimes). Other Republicans, he implied, could also be big-hearted.

Any time I find myself agreeing with Hatch and Novak I grab my wallet, and the cynic in me says this magnanimity may have been arrived at only after much jujitsu with public opinion polls. The Forgive and Forget strategy has this virtue for Republicans: It is the only way they're going to win a clean PR victory. The polls are impossible for them. Surveys have been jiggered and rejiggered to find some way, any way, 50 percent of Americans would back impeachment. No luck. The best effort so far was a Wall Street Journal poll that found that 45 percent of Americans--up from 39 percent last month!--would favor holding impeachment hearings if Clinton had an affair and perjured himself. This is a number made absurd by the fact that 1) A 6 percent rise is hardly a tidal wave; 2) in no universe is 45 percent a majority; 3) impeachment hearings are not impeachment; and 4) similar polls registered impeachment support at 24 percent or 14 percent. This does not a winning issue make.

The only poll that I've heard about that makes any sense, which may be the one the GOP is reading, is the ABC News survey (I think) saying that 69 percent of Americans would clear Clinton if he makes a clean breast of it.

Whether they've reached their conclusion for cynical or idealistic reasons, Hatch and Co. do seem to have hit on the only solution to this mess, the only outcome that will punish Clinton adequately, satisfy his persecutors enough to quiet them, and save us from two more years of this horror. (All this assumes the allegations are true. Insert usual caveats here: "till Aug. 17," "DNA testing by the FBI," "unreliable witness," etc.)

Why would Clinton agree to apologize?

1) It would shock no one and disappoint few to find out that Clinton and Lewinsky did have an affair despite his earlier claims.