Public Trussed

by Carolyn Chase


t's said the truth will set you free. Well, Bill and Hillary are still waiting. So is the rest of the American public. The truth may set us free, but it always pisses-off a lot of people first.

We are a nation of judgmental gossips with a hard-core addiction to fantasy. Under the guise of tolerance we have let freedom come to stand for disrespect, opportunism and low standards across-the-board. We can now hurt and judge each other faster and faster, 24-hours-a-day.

The fact that we've spent tens of millions of public dollars in pursuit of the truth about our President's extra-marital relations can only be another sign of the wealth and decadence of modern American culture at the close of the 20th century.

I mean, really. There are people attempting to survive on the streets of America and we're paying hundreds of dollars an hour to have suits report dialogue like: "It tastes good."

Did we really need to spend upwards of $40 million to learn that sometimes a cigar is not just a cigar? He's not the first powerful man to be undone by a woman who couldn't keep her mouth shut. It's just a good thing he didn't tip her.

This is lower than low. It's like a Jerry Springer show for the powerful - and all at taxpayer expense and at the expense of the pride of a family and a nation.

Next to O.J., poor Bill Clinton has got to be the most widely shamed figure in history, unless you count Hillary. This couple has been shamed in more than fifty languages by now.

It's hard to imagine how we could make our public political systems worse on elected officials. Almost anything goes. The media hound-dogs people and the public laps it up. The list of Congressional philanderers being outed can only be expected to grow.

It's making me wonder - what the heck is going on? What is the point?

Aside from the obvious conclusion that people wishing to undo the powerful will pursue anything, the fact is that people do listen. I suspect the American appetite for righteousness will not be sated soon. We are titillated, even when we say we're not.

But what will it really translate into for your average person?

There's this problem about recognizing the truth and translating it into meaning.

Different people recognize the truth at different times, in different ways and at different rates. Then everyone makes it mean something according to their own experience and values. Some people never see the truth about certain things. Some should never have to.

While politicians trumpet the need to restore public trust in the Presidency, they have relentlessly pursued a climate designed to undermine all but the most saintly among us.

And what about that public trust? What public trust? What can the public trust? That people with power deserve to be relentlessly attacked in every possible way? That the President is, in the final analysis, just a human being and not above sin? Duh. Amongst the calls for redemption and resignation, smugness and righteousness abound.

What does it really mean that Bill Clinton - or that any other Congressional member - lied about his extra-curricular sexual exploits? Powerful people lying about adultery is not a new story.

Can you imagine the daily news if every story about a politicians' lies or sins merited coverage? Why you could have an easy feature: "sins of the day." Could fill several hour-long slots. Or how about a channel covering nothing but deceptions, half-truths, and lies? The Sinner's Channel could be a hit.

Democracy is a messy thing, and we haven't found any better way to govern our affairs. But democracy under the spotlight is evolving to a new level. Political judgments now travel at the speed of light.

What does it mean that, within minutes of its public release, I had received a copy of the "Sexual Encounters" sections of Ken Starr's expose sent by a friend into my emailbox? This was an entirely new category of junk mail: detailed, extremely well-written and articulate descriptions and corroborating evidence about the sex life of the President of the United States delivered in the droll "just-the-facts" style of Joe Friday on Dragnet.

They say never watch politics or sausage being made, but this sausage is a particularly large and a hard one to watch. We are now moving through the punishment phase of the public pillory. Will the punishment fit the crime? What does poor wandering Bill really deserve?

Like Hester in that American classic novel "The Scarlet Letter," maybe we should just have Bill wear a red letter "A" for a set period of time to signify his ongoing private sin and public contrition. But doesn't everyone see it there already?

This spectacle is so morally archetypal that everyone can have an informed judgment (in general contrast to all the uninformed ones we all have all the time). Like Peter waiting at the gates of heaven, we all know the right and wrong moral answers about this.

But does the public really think this is important? All the polls tell us they'd like the country to move on. But the media and the powerful care about it. It's like sharks sensing blood.

The media cares about it because it involves sex and power and that means attention and money. The powerful care about it because it's distracting from all their other responsibilities.

In the meantime, regular Americans go about their lives, answering pollsters and tripping across the spectacle as it unfolds via instant mass media. In the final analysis, the politics of distraction is the overarching price for the average person-at-large, but especially to those who could actually use some leadership to deal with the issues of the day.