|Friday, November 6, 1998||
Volume 64, Issue 54
Moeller on Manhood
Lisa M. Chmiola
Bill, Tom: Two of a kind?
Americans everywhere were probably busy this week smashing their porcelain replicas of Monticello, cutting the picture of Thomas Jefferson out of their commemorative bicentennial placemats and hastily moving their photographs of the Jefferson Memorial to the back of the scrapbook.
Why the uproar, you ask? Earlier this week, a team of scientists in Virginia discovered it is highly probable that Thomas Jefferson fathered one of his mulatto slaves' children.
Actually, it didn't cause a stir. Sure, it's interesting to know that one of our founding fathers actually had dirt to hide. But other than the fact that we can all view Jefferson in an interesting new light (and say things like "Way to go, Tom!"), the findings were not monumental.
Disgustingly enough, though, people immediately compared Jefferson's situation to that of Bill Clinton, who gave a special Oval Office tour to portly intern Monica Lewinsky.
People rushed to classify Jefferson and Clinton together as victims. "Do we really have to scrutinize Clinton's behavior when Thomas Jefferson fathered an illegitimate child?" they asked. "Leave them both be."
Well, there are a couple of differences in the two cases. For one, Thomas Jefferson had, at press time, been dead for 172 years. And Jefferson didn't try to obstruct justice in hiding his affair.
"But we're being unfair to Clinton," you might say. "Jefferson's contemporaries didn't make a big deal out of his private life." In fact, they did. The newspapers were full of savage, and often distasteful, political cartoons and editorials discussing Jefferson's iniquity. Opponents derided Jefferson as being downright wicked -- Satan in a powdered wig.
If 24-hour news networks existed in Jefferson's time, he probably would have been in trouble, too. But they didn't.
Clinton, on the other hand, is unfortunate enough not only to live in an age of instant information, but also one in which the American people seem to be wild about morals. But should we be any easier on him because of it? No.
The fact remains that Clinton deceived his people, his party, his family and his colleagues. If he's guilty of a crime, he should be held accountable for it, no matter what Thomas Jefferson -- or any other president -- did years ago.