Political scandal is no recent phenomenon

Matt Mower

It's almost a cliché for American political journalists to say there was once an era when the press protected the public from the less-than-admirable private lives of our political leaders. To prove their point they cite the philandering of the Kennedys and the indisputable effort to keep Franklin D. Roosevelt's disability from the viewing public.

Of course, when you're assigned the job of defending a president who cheats on his wife, a first lady who improperly does business with a fraudulent savings and loan operator and an administration which holds total disregard for the rights of American citizens, it's nice to hearken back to a time when you just didn't have to press the issue.

Then again, liberals never let the truth get in the way of a good story. The history of political scandal is more mixed than some would have you believe.

Thomas Jefferson, the Father of the Declaration of Independence, probably wished that the liberals' distortion of history were more true. During much of his political career, Federalists plagued him with accusations of a 38-year affair with Sally Hemmings, a slave. All it takes is one visit to Monticello to notice an uncanny resemblance between Jefferson and Hemmings' children. Historians believe Jefferson to be the father of seven of her children. Federalists showed the nastiness of the day by labeling the slave mistress "Black Sal."

Alexander Hamilton, first secretary of the treasury and leading advocate of an American monarchy, probably also wished that the liberals' distortion of history were more true. In his new book, No Surprises: Two Decades of Clinton-Watching, Pulitzer Prize winning editorialist Paul Greenberg brilliantly contrasts the handling of charges of adultery on the part of two distinctive American politicians.

In 1797, allegations were floating around our nation's capitol that Hamilton, a scrupulous handler of money, was making improper payments to James Reynolds from the Treasury account. Finally, a congressional committee investigated the issue, confronting the secretary in his home. Rather than cowering behind the Clintonism of "Maybe I did, Maybe I didn't," Hamilton relied on the truth. He confessed to a two-year affair with Reynolds' wife but claimed that they were blackmailing him. Working in tandem, the wife seduced him, and the husband asked for money. It's quite unfortunate that our current president is above such honesty in the face of a serious allegation against his character.

After accepting the real history of political scandal, the question of importance remains. Everyone must draw the line somewhere, but to ignore scandal is a terrible mistake. In examining the Kafkaesque nightmare of the Clinton administration, our peace of mind is at stake.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of files have been illegally obtained by the White House. They were most likely used in the political trial of Billy Dale, an event which easily could have been staged in a banana republic. And who hired Craig Livingstone? The dead guy, of course.

Mower is a

senior economics major.

Last Modified: 8-17-96    © 1996 The Daily Cougar

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