London – the year was 1535. Sir Thomas More, a lawyer and formerly Chancellor of England was incarcerated in The Tower, accused of high treason for his refusal to sign “The Act of Succession” which had been passed into law by the Parliament.
Despite More’s reliance on the law’s provision, “qui tacit consentire” that “silence gives consent” and that his silence on the subject should be construed as an affirmation of the act as it had been passed, More’s silence was generally construed by the public as meaning that he opposed the provisions of the law. Because More was held in such high esteem this presented a political problem for his liege lord, Henry VIII who had done everything in his power to get More to acquiesce. More would not, however, abandon either his position or his principles.
Finally, Henry tasked More’s daughter, Meg to try to convince him to take the oath and sign. After trying every logical argument with her father, all of which he countered with his own, she finally said, “Father. Take the oath and in your heart think differently. God will know what you really believe.”
A dismayed More replies, “Oh,Meg, what is an oath but words we say to God?”
More continued his silence and refusal to sign the act, was tried and convicted through the use of perjured testimony and was executed.
Washington, D. C. – 1998. The House of Representatives votes to impeach William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States on two counts – “Obstruction of Justice” and “Perjury.” Two months later the Senate acquitted the president on both charges with not one senator of the president’s party voting for conviction thus assuring that the vote would fall far short of the two thirds majority needed.
During the trial, President Clinton was asked about his sexual relations with women in the oval office, specifically Monica Lewinsky. “”Did he have sex with her in the Oval Office?” To this, Clinton said haltingly, “I did not have sex with that woman.” That statement was later proven to be a lie and although he was not convicted by the Senate, he was stripped of his law license and ordered to pay a fine.
While we don’t know the finale to the “Clinton story,” we do know that the former President’s popularity is high among American voters, he commands half a million dollars for giving an hour’s speech and is one of the driving forces behind the Clinton Foundation which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars.
The contrast between these two lawyers is monumental. Sir Thomas’ reputation was spotless. He was revered by the general populace as a man who was both honest and fair, a man of integrity. He is today perhaps most remembered for his book, “Utopia,” best translated as “No Place Land.”
In the book, More theorizes a society set in the New World – a communist society in which there is no unemployment because everyone is required to work. Meals are eaten communally and the population is regulated as to the number of people who live in a particular neighborhood so that if there is an excess in one locale, some of those citizens are relocated to a less populated area.
There is general equality between men and women although only widowed women may become priests in one of the accepted four religions. Only atheism is not taken as a valid view, the basis being that if one has no fear of repercussions in an after life then that person has no reason to try to conform to the laws that the society has enacted. Atheists are tolerated but are subject to vigorous persuasion by the priests of the society to “set them straight.” Medical treatment is, of course, free and available to all citizens. And lawbreakers are shackled with gold chains, to remind the society of the unimportance of wealth and money.
In contrast to More’s reputation, former President Clinton’s career and person have been mired in controversy and allegations of questionable behavior dating back to the time that he was Governor of Arkansas. Many of those relate to his extramarital sexual activities although I believe that relates more to a matter of morality than to an ability to govern. But the matter of his libido was one of the focuses of his impeachment.
What disturbs me about the former president is his response. Frankly, while I do not condone his behavior – that is not within my purview – I would have respected him if, rather than falsely denying his tryst in the Oval Office, thus perjuring himself, he had said, “Hey, I have a very high sex drive and took advantage of an opportunity that presented itself. Now what’s your point? And if you don’t have one, let’s move on.” I’ve generally found that the truth, as painful as it may be to admit is usually a person’s best defense. We all make mistakes and most people can forgive someone who is honest about admitting to one.
Despite More’s reputation, he was, as Chancellor of England, responsible in an almost ISIS-like way for the persecution of Protestants in England. That certainly puts some tarnish on More’s reputation. As a devout Roman Catholic, I doubt that he would be apologetic for his actions, as reprehensible as we might view them today.
And I doubt that former President Clinton would apologize for his past sexual adventures as new information now surfaces that one of his close associates, the wealthy Jeffrey Epstein, a registered sex offender, convicted of soliciting prostitution from a 14 year old girl frequently entertained Clinton and other prominent people on his private Caribbean island, Little St. James, nicknamed “Orgy Island.” Epstein has been a cash contributor to the Clinton Foundation, although he might have offered more to the former president in kind rather than dollars.
Without much surprise, the controversies which have swirled around the former president have adhered to his wife now that she is officially a candidate to hold her husband’s former position. And the pending release of a book about how Bill and Hillary (also a lawyer) have conducted their financial affairs have brought the old controversies back to the public’s attention and have gone from a simmer to the boiling point.
Despite the Clintons’ efforts to divert attention from the issues by labeling them as “right wing conspiracies,” such publications as “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post” have joined the fray and brought out revelations about their and their foundation’s financial affairs which are causing the foundation to re-file at least five years worth of federal tax returns. Neither of those publications could be accused of being conservative voices.
Hillary Clinton’s camp has pushed back strongly about the allegations that are being raised, specifically that there was a “quid pro quo” for donations made to the Clinton Foundation by both individuals and foreign governments and various accords that were reached that benefited them personally while Ms. Clinton was Secretary of State. And it would be fair to say that at this point no smoking gun, no specific email can be produced to substantiate the claims that have been raised. Perhaps that is a function of Ms. Clinton’s destruction of 30,000 emails that she deemed “personal.” We will probably never know unless we can tap into the records of the NSA – assuming that they archived those.
But one thing is clear. As in More’s time, if a person does not have an expectation of punishment for lying under oath either in this or a future life, then there would be little reason not to try to obfuscate the facts and put on one’s best game face using a strategy of total denial. And while it might be impossible to provide the sufficiency of evidence that “influence peddling” took place during the time Ms. Clinton was Secretary of State to obtain a guilty court verdict, it should be a call to the American voter to question the qualifications of a person who may herself be implicated in this scandal and who is married to a man who clearly broke the law – a law which he had sworn to uphold.
We’ll see if anyone is paying attention – or more importantly, cares.