This thread is about played out, but a couple of final comments.
1. Clinton was one of the most gifted politicians of our time, and moved the national Democratic Party towards the center–think intervention in Bosnia & Kosovo, welfare reform, NAFTA & free trade–where it needs to be if it is to escape longterm structural minority status. Had Gore been able to run on Clinton’s record, Election 2000 would have been no contest . . .
(Though Lyle, please, let’s not argue about this. :) ) Had Gore run on Clinton’s record, he risked appearing to endorse Clinton’s conduct, but the only way to run away from his record was to move left, which is what Gore ultimately did. That undid the moderation of the Dems that Clinton had started, and contributed to increased polarization of the two parties which, I think, does not serve the country well. So for moderate Dems, Lewinsky-gate was a true Greek tragedy.
2. John Knowles made several insightful points in his thoughtful post.
a. On exemptions, I think the dominant view in the Republican Party on religion is a Wil Herbergian/this-is-a-Protestant/Catholic/Jewish-nation, so our government and laws ought properly to reflect this cultural majority (weak Establishment Clause), and exemptions are rarely necessary since this preferred/presumed religio-cultural understanding predominates in every state (weak Free Exercise Clause). The dominant Democratic view until recently has been civil libertarian, with particular solicitude for minority religions and minorities generally (strong Free Exercise Clause), but with strong suspicion for the P/C/J cultural understanding (strong Establishment). (The LDS church, incidentially, has skillfully played off both positions, suggesting that we are “just like the Protestants” at times, and at other times appealing to our minority status and history of persecution.) My own view on exemptions is that, however normatively appealing they might seem, they’re no longer plausible in a morally pluralistic society in which there are large numbers of ethically serious agnostics and atheists–e.g., how come religious people get exemptions, but secular folks with comparably serious moral concerns don’t? I actually think the Dems are moving in this direction, which means that within a decade, perhaps less, there’ll be no constituency for exemptions.
b. I also think John is right that the LDS church will not participate in faith-based funding. This illustrates the double-edged sword of Establishment Clause neutrality. Participation in the social welfare state is necessary to compete in the early 21st century when everything–including religion–is becoming consumerized. Those who choose not to participate, like the LDS church, are at a disadvantage, and may lose mass appeal as a result.
c. As to the Nixon-Clinton comparison, my experiences are similar to John’s (though admittedly not a scientific sample)–LDS Republicans tend to downplay Watergate, which involved quite extensive perjury and subversion of the justice system, while expressing outrage at Clinton’s dissembling to the grand jury which, though clearly wrong, was isolated. Perhaps we’re all more partisan than we like to admit, and that partisanship affects our judgments more than we like to admit.
3. As to Lyle’s lament for a good sexual-harassment plaintiff’s lawyer, first you need a plaintiff. Sexual harassment is *unwelcome* sexual attention, and whatever else one might say about the situation, it does not appear that Ms. Lewinsky found Clinton’s sexual attention unwelcome.