Politics by Other Means? Democracy and the Clinton Crisis

Politics by Other Means? Democracy and the Clinton Crisis

Since January the American media have been obsessed with sex, scandal, and lurid sensationalism in an unprecedented way. This has baffled and amused outside observers, especially Europeans, who are always ready to sneer at this country’s “puritanical” and hypocritical attitudes toward sexuality. Foreign commentators have professed amazement that an array of alleged peccadillos could undermine the most powerful officeholder in the world. The French and the Swedes, among others, seem to handle these things with so much more civility, discretion, and panache. Many Americans would also like to dismiss the whole affair as trivial or as an obvious attempt to “get Clinton” that has made political use of sexual moralism, lawyers’ dirty tricks, rich right-wingers, and media madness. But there are much more serious matters at stake. Certainly Kenneth Starr’s ties to the extreme right are there for all to see; undoubtedly, Clinton’s rebound from the Republican congressional victory of 1994 has been stalled. More important, however, the direction taken by the investigation of Clinton has come to pose real dangers to personal freedoms, to the integrity of the electoral processes, to the office of the presidency, and to the very structure of American constitutional democracy.

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