Rooting for Bill and Hillary

Inquirer 28 September 1998

There is much to be said for transparency and morality in government, but there is also no denying the right to privacy that is essential to the psychological well-being of every individual human being, be he or she a private citizen or a public official. In continuing to persecute US President Bill Clinton, the Republicans go too far. First the lascivious Starr report on the Internet, then the raw videotapes of Clinton’s grand jury testimony on television, what next? Video taped reenactments of the Oval Office encounters, Series 1 to 10?

Clinton’s critics have lost all sense of proportion, anything to weaken the Democrat in the White House, never mind the hypocrisy, never mind the damage to society. Likewise, the press, especially cable TV news, especially CNN, goes too far, seizing on the scandal, feeding on the frenzy, capitalizing on the demand for information, the more salacious and ugly the better, let the chips fall where they may.

Unfortunately, public well-being is not always served by a surfeit of information, especially when it’s sex-related and explicit and therefore inappropriate for immature audiences. Clinton deserves censure, indeed, for having behaved so mindlessly while in office (literally), but he doesn’t deserve (no one does) to be treated so vilely and exposed so viciously for what is at most a low misdemeanor. What married man does not lie about sexual indiscretions, if only to spare (if belatedly) the wife and children from heartache?

Filipinos are right, it could never happen in the Philippines. Here a President would have no trouble keeping the law and media at bay with regards to his private life. Here, an apology a la Clinton’s (the more contrite, the better, of course) would suffice to appease offended souls (at least until the next scandal), and any calls for impeachment would fall largely on deaf ears. When it comes to consensual adult sex, Filipinos will pay lip service to the sixth commandment, a formal acknowledgment of society’s sexual mores in aid of peace and order, but about all. The Catholic layer is a surface thing, like icing on a cake, our best feet forward. Beneath the civilized mask we are a people in touch with our sexuality, and how one deals with it in private, whether physically or spiritually, solo or with a partner, monogamously or polygamously, same sex or different, quickie or kinky, for free or for a fee, is nobody’s business but one’s own.

This is not to say, as some Filipino machos suggest, that we are a sexually liberated or sophisticated people. If we were, we would have sex education programs, birth-control pills and condoms for the youth; pornography would not be illegal; and sexually transmitted diseases would not be on the rise.

The traditional macho defense (falling back on biological determinism, the notion that men can’t help it, they get hard-ons) is programmedinto their genes in aid of propagating the human species. But there’s nothing sophisticated or worldly wise about it. Rather, it’s all about self-indulgence and vainglory, and Filipino women learn to live with it and deal with it, each in her own equally private way.

Ironically enough, it’s the Americans who are trying to be sophisticated and adult about sex. The sexual liberation of the ’60s (free love) that peaked in the ’70s (women’s lib, gay lib) regrettably brought sexual disease to America in the ’80s (AIDS), and the ’90s has seen an attempted return to monogamy (full circle) with a safe-sex twist – it doesn’t have to be life-long, it can be serial or one-at-a-time, which at least limits one’s chances of catching the deadly AIDS virus. For the irrepressibly promiscuous like Clinton and Lewinsky, AIDS prevention advocates recommend safe-sex or alternative rituals such as condom-protected intercourse, mutual masturbation, anything that brings pleasure (including mint and cigars) without bodily fluids being exchanged. At least Clinton was practicing safe sex.

Unfortunately for Clinton, the ’60s also saw the human mind moving from fragmented scientific thought to a new wholistic (or holistic) view of life that has since influenced attitudes and found applications in almost every aspect of human life, particularly in medicine, psychology and the environment, even in sports, the military, regional planning and world peace. New age wholistic thought views a person’s body, mind, and spirit not as separate and independent parts but as interconnected and integral parts of a creative functioning whole. And when a person is whole, when body mind and spirit are one, sexual energy is creative power that can be controlled and transformed and expressed in higher ways, from healing the self and other wholes to recreating the world.

This is where Clinton’s most strident critics are coming from. The new age notion is that a man in Clinton’s position should have been capable of mastering his lust and withstanding the temptation posed by Lewinsky. And I suppose they’re right. If he had said no, who knows, all that pent-up libido might have been harnessed and applied to the crafting of a more creative response to Arab terrorism than a bomb for a bomb. If he had said no, all that energy wasted on depositions and apologies might have been put to better use responding judiciously to the Asian economic meltdown, rethinking free trade and globalization, and reinventing the IMF.

But really, it’s all too much to ask of any president so soon after the examples of JFK and LBJ and Miterrand. And it’s too soon to be harsh and unyielding when the majority of Americans seem inclined to forgive the guy. After all, he has confessed and apologized, and he’s been punished, humiliated, enough by the media and the Internet exposure. The Republicans are now in a position to draw a line beyond which it is indecent to dwell, if only they were seeing straight.

The media, of course, cannot be expected to lay off and give the guy and his wife a break when it’s the rating-est story ever, bigger even than Diana and Dodi, or Charles and Camilla.