Ken Starr has said goodbye. He wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal, was the subject of a measured editorial in The Washington Post, got a somewhat more astringent sendoff in the New York Times and sat for a tender interview by Tim Russert on "Meet the Press." Russert asked lots of questions, all of them easily anticipated, but not the one I really wanted to hear: Aren't you ashamed, Mr. Starr?
Starr certainly did not act ashamed. He admitted to this or that minor error -- hindsight things that could not have occurred to anyone at the time but, in retrospect, hurt his investigation a bit. He should not, he told Russert, have accepted speaking gigs from organizations such as the Rev. Pat Robertson's Regent University. That gave the wrong impression, Starr said, and led some truly odd people to conclude that he was a Republican ideologue. He seemed dismayed that anyone could think such a thing.
Of course, Starr did not mention that he had been appointed by a three-judge panel of ossified conservatives. He forgot to say that he was chosen after the panel dismissed the interim "regulatory special counsel," Robert Fiske. And he neglected to mention that he was already a well-known commodity, a prominent Republican lawyer whose clients included the Clinton administration's sworn enemies, the tobacco companies.
It was about then that Russert hit him with the polls: Ken Starr's favorable rating, 30; unfavorable, 61. "The exact opposite of President Clinton. What happened to you?"
Starr was primed. What happened? This is what happened. He was a law officer, restrained by statute and by custom, holding his tongue and thinking only the purest thoughts while Clinton's gunsel, his button man, the odious James Carville, was smearing him. "There's going to be a war," Carville had said. And then Hillary Clinton herself chimed in, blaming a "vast right-wing conspiracy" for her husband's problems. Starr was out-PR'ed. What's a special prosecutor to do?
It went on like this. Sitting opposite Russert was the most reasonable of men. His voice was mellow, his aspect angelic. In another age, Kapellmeisters would have vied to create music for him, "A Cantata for the Independent Counsel," and to this day the religious would cherish his relics -- like, for instance, the wire Linda Tripp wore when she entrapped Monica Lewinsky.
Somehow that was not mentioned. Somehow, in his op-ed piece and on the air Starr did not say how he came to use the vast powers of the government to prove that -- Yes! -- Bill Clinton had lied about having sex with Lewinsky. Imagine that! Sex! And he lied about it! Oh, woe is me, the Republic is in peril!
Somehow, he did not quite explain how he set out to look into a failed real estate deal in Arkansas and wound up intimidating a young woman in a hotel in Virginia. He did not say, either, why he felt compelled to issue that dirty report or interrogate the president of the United States about what, precisely, he did with a certain woman in the alcove next to the Oval Office. And, of course, he did not explain why we should not fear a prosecutor such as him more than we do a philandering president.
Don't get me wrong. I have written many times that it was wrong -- impermissible -- for Clinton to have lied either in his deposition or before the grand jury. No one can do that -- not even the president. No, especially not the president. But Starr trapped him. Starr had him mortified, embarrassed. He rammed through the door to Clinton's personal life, busted in to where Clinton stored his fantasies, opened the drawers and threw everything out on the lawn for all the neighbors to see. This was not a mere investigation. This was an inquisition -- an attempt to murder the soul.
So, my question: Are you proud of what you have done, Mr. Starr? Is the country better off because we know more about the president's sex life than we do about our best friend's? Did we have to know about that dress? Did we have to pay for Tripp's betrayal of her friend? How did you, a former judge and a former contender for the Supreme Court, effectively wind up skulking around the White House, peeking through the window like a private dick in a divorce case?
Could it be that all of this -- not Carville, not Hillary Clinton, not the White House PR effort -- is why the country loathes you so? It's not your enemies who did you in, Mr. Starr, it's yourself. You have it all wrong -- still and to this day. That's why it's not goodbye, Mr. Starr. That's why it's good riddance.