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A Defect in the White House

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

Sadness. That was the universal reaction yesterday from both supporters and detractors of the President. The latest embarrassment that is dominating all of the headlines is somehow different, though, from other scandals that have plagued this Administration.

There is a disconcerting quality attached to this episode. People have a fairly good idea of what the normal reaction of a young woman of college age would be to the influence of someone with a significant amount of authority and prominence. In fact, most universities prohibit college professors from engaging in intimate relationships with their students in an effort to protect all parties. How much more difficult would it be for a twenty-one year old intern to reject requests of any kind from the President of the United States?

In the law of product liability, a defect in a product can be obvious to a reasonable person or it can be concealed from view. The more obvious a defect is, the less a buyer can rely on statements made by the seller. In a curious way, Americans were put on notice when they were first introduced to the current occupant of the White House that something was wrong. Even defective. Flaws were pointed out and set in plain view. Yet the media told us, and we conceded, that as long as he could do the job we should not concern ourselves in his private matters. Perhaps if we took notice of questionable behavior or raised doubts about seemingly inappropriate activity, it might be construed as mean-spirited or partisan. Consequently, many people refused to comment or worse yet, just looked the other way.

Amazingly, the media is acting shocked at the latest revelation about the President. They certainly seemed relatively unconcerned over the allegations involving national security, clandestine task forces, misused FBI files, selective IRS audits or malicious prosecution of federal employees. The sheer force and newsworthiness of the current allegations leave the press with no choice but to report on this one.

The inevitable denials have spewed forth with the usual legalistic "wiggle room" for which the President is famous. Assertions such as "there is no improper relationship" or "there is not a sexual relationship" allow for inevitable revisionism. Limiting the earlier statement to what is proper and the latter statement to the present tense paves the way for possible denials made in the face of the specter of seventeen covert audio tapes. No worry that the tapes contain detailed and graphic descriptions that might cast doubt on any contradictory statements. Déjà vu. Remember audio tapes did not faze the then presidential candidate when Ms. Flowers played them for the press.

Although the President's favorite intern is scheduled to give a deposition on Friday, her lawyer has indicated that his client will stand by the sworn affidavit she signed in which she denies ever having an affair with the leader of the free world. So she will likely follow the pattern of witnesses associated with previous scandals and just claim to have been lying to her secretly wired girlfriend. Oh yeah, it was on ten separate occasions. Sound outrageous? So is lying to one's diary, computer log or memo pad. Of course, if immunity isn't granted, she can always plead the Fifth.

Meanwhile, this entire matter arose out of Kenneth Starr's initial investigation which was examining the Whitewater Land Development in Arkansas. Thanks to these audio tapes, Starr is now looking into whether or not the president participated in a conspiracy to suborn perjury, make false statements and obstruct justice. The tapes are said to contain suggestions that the young woman talked to the President and Vernon Jordan, a close friend of the President, and may have been urged to lie in her upcoming deposition. The tapes also suggest that Jordan may have helped to arrange a new job for her in New York.

Consumers learn to select products carefully, weighing the manufacturer's claims with a healthy dose of skepticism.

No matter what the outcome of this crisis turns out to be, it will have a profound effect on our cultural landscape. Hopefully, Americans will learn an important lesson from this unfortunate chapter in history. When an individual applies for the position of being the most influential and powerful leader in the world, a moral defect should never again be ignored.

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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