What the Public Really Thinks
by Jan Baughman

If one is to believe the polls, here is how things stand: The majority of you approve of Bill Clinton as President, his handling of the economy and the bombings in Sudan and Afghanistan. You never really thought he was being truthful about Monica, you believe that Hillary knew about it all along and you really just want Ken Starr to drop the investigation and the press to stop talking about it. (The press hates this last point and they are reduced to reporting about how they're no longer going to report about it.) But it's not that simple. At the same time, you want the President to be held to a higher degree of accountability, and publicly - not just to his wife.

Swans conducted its own poll in order to shed some light on the incongruous answers to the latest New York Times/CBS poll. What we found was less than astonishing. First, when asked "Would you want the investigation of Bill Clinton's sex life to continue if the results were made public in a detailed and timely manner?" the overwhelming majority of Americans answered "yes". When asked the follow-up question, "Why?", the response was "to watch Dan Rather/Sam Donaldson struggle to describe "oral favors".

The New York Times/CBS poll asked "Does Bill Clinton share the moral values most Americans try to live by?" and 59% responded "no". We found this question vague and the phrase "try to" misleading, so in order to get at the heart of the issue, it had to be broken down in to several components.

A. Do you actually live by the moral values expected of you (i.e., by your family, friends, colleagues, church)? 80% responded "no".
B. When you behave in a manner that is not consistent with those values underlying question 'A', do you admit it to your spouse/family? 68% responded "no".
C. If your admission was required on national television would you confess? 6% responded "yes".
D. Have you or anyone you know ever had an improper physical relationship? 50% responded "yes".
E. Do you expect the President to live according to more stringent moral values than the American people? 92% responded "yes".

The conclusion reached by our statistician was that the majority of Americans are hypocritical, and exit interviews with the respondents revealed the bottom line: What you really wanted was for Bill Clinton to come forth on television and say "I lied. Monica Lewinsky performed oral sex on me in the Oval Office twenty-seven times over the past eighteen months. Hillary knows everything and will be leaving me once my term is complete. Mea culpa. Mea maximus culpa." Short of that, you're not interested in euphemisms.

The public opinion about Hillary Clinton is more difficult to understand. 63% of the New York Times/CBS poll respondents admired her for standing by her husband. Unfortunately, the poll does not reveal what proportion of the respondents were male. However, Swans' poll found that more than half of women believe Hillary Clinton is an intelligent person and 87% of women feel that she should engage in an improper physical relationship.

Two years from now, when the economy bottoms out, Russia and Japan are still struggling to survive and Ross Perot is the only Presidential candidate left who can pass our litmus test, we'll blame it all on Bill Clinton's sexual conduct. The question is, which will have been the greater distraction - his proclivity, or the investigation itself?

In the meantime, we have 28 more months of second-guessing the President's behavior and motives, and even if the press responds to the confused public and drops the coverage, do not despair. It is only a matter of time before Monica sells the rights to her sad story. After all, she has her reputation to defend - she was much more than just another intern. Sadly enough, much, much more.

Published August 22, 1998
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