"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 21 August 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.

There is a secret truth - not in the president's words, which flow as beautifully and run away as fast as water, but in their interpretation. At some point someone, maybe a Jew, but surely someone who's never even seen a page of the Talmud, will stumble across it again. They will do this by calling the debate over the president's words "Talmudic interpretation." And in that dismissal, one of those peculiarly numb and distinctively journalistic fumbles for a turn of phrase, they'll be very close to the truth.

The idea that it matters, that something in the country's future, in "our" moral integrity, is affected by whether "sexual relationship" includes, excludes, or partly overlaps with "improper relationship," is what we might call the obviously ideological interpretation. Since it's so obviously false, so clearly an ideology, it's not much of one: Only Op-Ed columnists and great aunts would have us believe it. We all know that they're really just trying to catch him on something because his words are all fake; we just need to find the seam, the little rip that will tear them wide open and expose what's underneath. Veneer torn, the real ideology emerges: Whether or not we "believe" it matters, we all listen. To a televised national speech with ratings this high, we all respond. Every word matters, every one of us cares.

Effectively, it's all true.

Such exacting and productive scrutiny - such longing, after the fashion of our current ideology, for truth - is a bit more weight than we would confess to putting on the blather of a well-groomed careerist on a podium. Clinton himself knows this better than anyone. But that weight - can we really blame the rabbis for expecting that God might have been able to bear it?

courtesy of Seth Sanders