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Scandal's Legacy: The Trite and True

Clinton on Trial

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  • By Megan Rosenfeld
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, February 6, 1999; Page C1

    The inevitable corollary to every national scandal is a collection of phrases that get repeated so often you start wanting to scream and throw rocks every time you hear one. Watergate gave us "At this point in time" and "I am not a crook" -- not to mention the whole -gate thing that plagues us to this day. Iran-contra supplied lawyer Brendan Sullivan's indignant "I am not a potted plant," and the simple but eloquent "guns for hostages." As though it were that simple.

    We all perpetuate this shorthand, and so we must join together to stomp it out. Legislation may be required. And let the punishment fit the crime: Every time someone utters one of these egregriously overused expressions, he must wash his mouth out with soap and write "I will not use impeachment cliches" 1,000 times. The ordeal would be covered by C-SPAN.

    These are some of the top candidates for abolishment:

    "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

    And they didn't have sex ed in Arkansas when you were a kid, we know.

    "Does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense."

    Like flood waters, the offenses seep up or down.

    "Reasonable people can disagree."

    Maybe, but reasonable people aren't participating in this ordeal.

    "Is this Watergate, or is it Peyton Place?"

    Note to Rep. Lindsey Graham: Have you seen any soap operas lately? They make Peyton Place look like Mayberry, RFD.

    "I am just like you."

    Only when we're both holding press conferences.

    "The politics of personal destruction."

    Remember "the devil made me do it"?

    "Sexual McCarthyism."

    Would that be Joe or Gene?

    "Perjurious, false and misleading." Also: "Prevent, obstruct and impede."

    Has anyone ever heard the words "repetitive" and "redundant"?

    Any references to "voting" linked to "conscience."

    We know those legislators never, ever cast a vote for reasons other than conscience.

    Any reference to what "The American people" think, want, deserve, etc.

    The American people wish to say that whoever is claiming knowledge of their innermost thoughts is wrong.

    "William Jefferson Clinton."

    Is there some concern he'll be confused with another Bill Clinton?

    "Alexander Hamilton."

    Poor guy. He isn't even around to be on "Face the Nation."

    "Intimate relationship."

    Is that like a parent-teacher conference?

    "I was never really alone with Monica, right?"


    "I do not condone the president's behavior."

    Nobody does, except four teenage boys in Los Angeles.

    "Vast right-wing conspiracy."

    Best not to let them know you know.

    "The Framers."

    Not unless they are readying your Renoir to hang on the wall.

    Any use of the word "pain" in the context of this affair, as in "I have caused pain," Clinton "feeling your pain," his pain or anyone's pain.

    We feel it. All by ouselves.

    Hall of Fame Cliche in Perpetuity: "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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