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Words for the prodigal president

Tuesday, January 27, 1998

By Tony Norman

What Bill Clinton should say in his State of the Union address tonight:

. . . In conclusion, I'd like to take a moment to address the pain many Americans are feeling this evening. As you know, I've made more than my fair share of mistakes both as president and as governor of Arkansas.

Likewise, my mistakes as a husband and father are evident to anyone who's read a newspaper or seen a news broadcast in the last six years.

These mistakes have been disappointing to voters and humiliating for my family. In some ways, it's tempting to blame the clouds that hang over this great office on people and circumstances hostile to my presidency.

But that wouldn't be right. The office of the president is like no other in the land.

Twice, the American people elected me chief steward of the nation's resources, traditions and democratic ideals. It would be unseemly to shift the responsibilities and burdens that come with that to anyone else, whether friend or foe.

At my second inauguration last January, I swore to uphold the Constitution and to serve and protect the office of the presidency. In my heart, I believe I have done so.

As I've outlined in tonight's State of the Union, our country is at peace, and our economy is the strongest on the planet. In a few days, Congress will receive its first balanced budget in decades. These are things the American people can be justifiably proud of.

But now you have an opportunity to examine the dark side of a very fallible man who ascended to this office. You must weigh recent allegations against me in light of the public good I have or haven't accomplished as president.

Let me be the first to say that I am, indeed, a sinner - a man in need of as much grace as God can give me. Yes, I've broken my marital vows. I'm grateful my mother isn't alive; it would've broken her heart hearing me say this.

In the past, I've leveled with the American people about the pain I've caused in my marriage. Incredibly, Hillary keeps on loving me. And I love her with all my heart. It's only because she's forgiven me that I can even stand before you tonight.

Many of you are familiar with the verse from scripture recited at nearly every wedding - about love being patient and kind.

My favorite verse is the one that assures us that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.

If I didn't know Paul the Apostle had written it 2,000 years ago, I would've sworn it was a motto Hillary coined one night when I was late getting home. Maybe that's why, despite her tears of rage, she always manages to forgive me.

In many ways, I'm just like that Prodigal Son of the gospel parable, blind to how good I had it at home until I've eaten with pigs in a far country.

Now there are allegations of an affair in the White House. Questions are being raised about whether I've obstructed justice by counseling a young woman to lie to investigators. Both are serious charges; one could result in legal sanctions.

The American people have a right to know whether the allegations are true or not. If it were possible to refute all the allegations tonight, I would, but the dignity of the occasion makes such a vigorous defense inappropriate.

Frankly, we should all encourage a more vigorous protection of the young woman's privacy during this difficult period. There is an ongoing investigation.

Neither the press nor rumormongers should consider themselves deputized agents of the law.

So, I'm asking news organizations to show some restraint by not broadcasting every salacious rumor because of fear of being scooped by the Drudge Report or any other Internet gossip outlet.

Meanwhile, it should be up to the American people to decide whether I should continue my service to this office.

Search your consciences and lean on your own understanding of democracy for the answer.

I only ask that you not allow yourselves to be carried away by disappointment, passion or blind loyalty. As usual, I shall abide by your decision.

However these things resolve themselves, democracy will be the better for it.

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