An Irishman's Diary


Does anyone on this side of the Atlantic have the least idea what the US is up to at the moment? Is there a single part of the Monica Lewinski-Bill Clinton affair which makes any sense to European sensibilities?

And is it not perfectly terrifying that the most powerful man in the world and who leads the world's greatest and freest democracy can be brought to the stumbling, powerless cypher he is by an unelected, uncontrollable descendent of the three judges of Salem?

In its way, that is not as terrifying as the tepid media comment from the US, which seems to accept Starr on his own terms. In fact, the Special Prosecutor sits four square within a perverse cultural and puritanical tradition, the virus of which erupted with the witch-scares in Massachusetts, which resurfaced with the mass arrests of communists and liberals by Secretary of State Smith after the first World War, and which exploded with the McCarthyite purges in the 1950s.

That there might have been reason to be concerned about communists - dedicated agents of Joseph Stalin, one of the most evil men in world history -within the State Department is beyond doubt. To have permitted such traitors unhindered access to the controls of government and the implementation of policy would have been frivolity itself; but for the hearings of the UnAmerican Activities Committee (what a name) to be able to coerce, cajole, intimidate and bully, and to create such an atmosphere of recriminatory, self-exculpatory terror was not merely as an assault on democracy, but an indulgence in pre-democratic mob violence.

What is most sinister about such processes is of course not the processes themselves but the political and journalistic culture which permits them to go unchallenged.

Against McCarthy

Who dared speak against McCarthy? Did he not have as allies both Richard Nixon and the Kennedy family? Does that not suggest that the coercive instincts within the American body-politic cross the political division, and are shared by Democrat and Republican alike?

In future times, Kenneth Starr will appear a ludicrous and obscene figure, an intrusive and prurient Peeping Tom who will be one of the stock figures of fun for American historians. But he is not fun now. He is bringing down the most popular American President in recent times, a man who has done a lot for this country - and far more, I might add, than I thought possible. And he is bringing him down over a matter of sexual peccadillos which are not his business, not the business of the American people, not the business of the elected representatives of that people.

Sexual peccadillos

I am largely unaware of the sexual peccadillos of Irish Presidents, though no doubt they had some. I am reasonably aware of the sexual peccadillos of Irish politicians. I am aware that both male and female members of Dail Éireann have had sex with people not their spouses; am aware too that some - and I mean several - have had sex with people of the same sex as themselves.

Whose business is this? Not yours. Not the Dail's. Not Kenneth Starr's. It's nobody's.

It's what happens in life. Maybe it shouldn't; when we take marriage vows we swear that this sort of thing will not happen. But it does. And so long as it does not have any effect on the conduct of policy, it is irrelevant to public life.

Yet the American political establishment is permitting Kenneth Starr not merely to extract Witchfinder-General Confessions to adultery from Lewinsky and Clinton, but also the actual details of what they did. This is disgusting, grubby, vile. Nobody should be made to describe their sexual antics before a special jury at any time, provided only adults are involved. They are here. End of story.

But of course it's not the end of the story. A far greater victim of this appalling outrage to human decency has been Hillary Clinton, who has had to hear almost through public sources the details of sexual deeds which she would probably not wish to hear in private; and Chelsea Clinton, of course, must be passing through her own private torments too.

And for no purpose. A wildgoose chase which began with Whitewater, and found nothing, has $40 million later found that a notoriously sexually driven man has had extra-marital affairs. So what? So bloody what? Which American president worth his salt didn't? Roosevelt didn't because he couldn't, but his wife did. Eisenhower did. Reagan did, but before he was President. Carter didn't - and is he an advertisement for fidelity?

Is it surprising that a US President facing such public ridicule should be making poor decisions? Is it surprising that he gave Islamic terrorists notice of his intentions by withdrawing the embassy staff from Islamabad two days before the cruise-missile attack on their encampment in Afghanistan? Is it surprising that he seems to have destroyed a powderedmilk plant in Sudan? What is more surprising is that he hasn't, in his stress and confusion, bombed Stockholm.

No Kenneth Starr

President Clinton is answerable to the American people. Witchfinder General Starr is not. He belongs to that grey, sinister species, clerkly, dull, methodical, ruthless, which tyrannies invariably find so useful. We in Ireland have not half the freedoms which the Americans relish: but I truly believe we would never tolerate a Kenneth Starr. And for that we should be deeply grateful.