Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Ten Lessons From Clinton's Sorry Show

August 31, 1998

I am disappointed. At the time I am writing this, it is in the immediate aftermath of Clinton’s admission that he had an inappropriate relationship with a former White House intern.

President Clinton has performed a service for our country, albeit a negative one, of being an example of what not to do. He has given our country a great lesson in sex education and integrity. Parents and children have been forced to discuss his behavior and what it means. We have gained ten lessons from his recent, brief acknowledgment of wrong doing.

1. Marriage is sacred. Marriage is the place for private sexual expression. Our eleven-year-old son asked, "If President Clinton wanted to do all those things, why didn't he do them with his wife?" Exactly. Thank you President Clinton for that great teaching moment.

2. Never pretend to be a victim when you are apologizing. No blame. No attacking the person who caught your doing something wrong. At this point, it doesn't matter how you were caught.

3. A tiger can't change his stripes. The moment begged for contrition, for humility, for a heartfelt apology. It would have been a big first step in restoring a relationship of trust. Instead there was pride, anger and a simple lack of remorse felt for the true victims. President Clinton lashed out one more time at his accusers. His anger wasn't faked. His remorse was hollow.

4. Tell the truth, the whole truth and tell it quickly. The truth would have been accepted seven months earlier. It would have avoided so much pain for so many people. By hiding the truth, problems became bigger. Denial after denial destroys future credibility.

5. Don't lie to your friends, and if you do, apologize to them profusely. Among the many outside of his family who President Clinton betrayed, there were his loyal supporters and aides who put their reputations and credibility on the line. Clinton stood on the sidelines and misled them. He knew the truth, yet allowed them to defend an untruth.

Loyalty only went one way. The gifted empathizer didn't have a clue. There wasn't any recognition of their pain. Betrayal is ugly.

6. When you make a mistake, be ready to take the consequences. Take responsibility, don't just say the words. Say exactly what happened and let others decide your fate. Give as much detail as is asked for. Explain your motives. Tell the worst of it. Don't be legalistic.

7. The truth will come out. Sooner or later, secrets are told. If you don't want to be talked about, don't do it. If you do it, own up to it.

8. Trust others with your difficulties. Find honest people who will tell you the truth when you are in trouble. Isolating yourself and trusting your own judgment can be fatal. Choose your confidantes wisely and tell them everything. This takes humility and recognition of the value of good counsel and good counselors.

9. Moral example counts. The American people are not fools. Morality counts. We give the benefit of the doubt. The innocent are not condemned until proven guilty. We waited and waited for the truth. Now the truth is known, it is refreshing to see that, as a people, we want our leaders not only to do the best but be the best.

The ends do not justify the means. Personal integrity is at the bedrock of leadership. Wealth, power, special interests, and great talent may combine to bring great accomplishments but basic virtues, moral courage and character can't be cynically discarded.

President Clinton, who are you? What do you stand for really? Can you explain yourself to us? Can you explain yourself to yourself?

10. "Pride goeth before the fall." Bill and Hillary. Hillary and Bill. Your collective ambition and pride eliminates a precious gift to each other. Objectivity. Within the security of marriage, no one is better positioned to tell a painful truth. Blind spots and weaknesses can be overcome by the help of each other.

Instead of being loving critics for one another, you became co-conspirators in a vain effort to wring a legacy from history. Ken Starr and the "right wing conspiracy" didn't cause of the tarnishing of your presidential legacy. It was your untamed appetites and haughty arrogance in thinking you were above detection and judgment.

I hope by the time this column comes out, we can gain one more lesson of life from the Clinton presidency - a lesson of redemption. I believe people can change. I don't believe it is easy. I hope we can see a fully contrite president acknowledging the truth, accepting moral responsibility, showing insight into his basic weaknesses, and committing himself to be faithful to our trust.

I hope he can assume the greatness for which he is capable. I wish. I hope. But I confess, I am skeptical. It is too easy to be a victim when hyper-aggressive Ken Starr can be blamed for spoiling his dream of a noble presidential legacy.

Without Ken Starr to bring him down, President Clinton wouldn't have a chance to learn these ten lessons from his own life. In the long run, if these lessons are learned, it may win him more respect than a cleverly crafted presidency.