Last week, as Washington scandals deepened, I wrote of Cincinnati Reds manager Jack McKeon's explanation of why he told his pitchers to throw the ball across the plate to Mark McGwire: "I'm going to do something good for the country. I'll pitch to him. See if we can't help with the healing process." Remember Mr. McGwire's response: "Wouldn't it be great if that's all it came down to?"
The slugger's instincts were sharp. Three days after he broke the record, millions of Americans were downloading the Starr report's combination of Dostoevsky and pornography. Healing was far away, although Christians had a teaching opportunity as words like sin and repentance providentially dominated front pages for the first time in many a year.
But the word that jumped out at me from the Starr report was kiddo. According to the narrative, after the president and Miss Lewinsky had their first inappropriate encounter of a sexual nature, they did not see each other again for six weeks, except when he passed her in the hallway and called her "Kiddo." She worried that he had forgotten her name, but Mr. Clinton later assured her he had not, and that statement is credible: Kiddo, a word not part of the regular Clinton vocabulary, had a special significance for the sexual prowler whose great political hero remains John F. Kennedy.
"Kiddo," after all, was the way Mr. Kennedy referred to young women; his sexual rotation was so extensive that he didn't even ask first names. Mark McGwire became very conscious of Roger Maris as the home run record came near; Bill Clinton has been conscious of John F. Kennedy since he shook the suave president's hand over a third of a century ago. If President Kennedy was following his typical White House pattern that day, he was probably coming from or heading toward adultery not in a windowless hallway but in the Lincoln bedroom, in the White House swimming pool, all over the place-and no one wrote about it at the time.
Bill Clinton in the 1990s was finally in a position to be like his hero of the 1960s-and how unfair it must seem to him that the rules have changed, due in part to pressure from both feminists and Christian conservatives. But there is another difference between the Kennedy legend and the Clinton reality. Our current president may have wanted to be thoroughly amoral, as his predecessor supposedly was-loving and leaving them within five minutes-but he could not carry it through. The Starr report shows him feeling guilty about the liaisons, and wanting to give something back by offering Monica Lewinsky emotional intimacy.
Now, he seems to be feeling shame, and that can be helpful. A lot of us have been praying that President Clinton will repent, and his words at the prayer breakfast were impressive. But since, as James writes, faith without works is dead, we need to follow the Clinton deeds during the next few weeks. We need to remember that Islam and Judaism both emphasize works, but Christianity emphasizes faith and gets works in the process, for when God shows us grace our actions change.
If the president's repentance is an act, we'll see him continue his new good cop, bad cop strategy: Since the Aug. 17 speech that combined contrition and confrontation was ineffective, Mr. Clinton can play repentance (the good cop) and have the lawyers who do his will be the bad cops. "I will instruct my lawyers to mount a vigorous defense," he said at the prayer breakfast-yet when God truly touches our hearts, we lower our defenses, not raise them higher. Look how Zacchaeus in chapter 19 of Luke showed his repentance by promising to give half of his possessions to the poor and to give back to people he had cheated.
But if the repentance is real, Bill Clinton will confess not to only what he already had to admit, but to lying under oath. That could leave him in jail jeopardy, but when God's grace is real, we care more about truth than consequences. Mr. Clinton could apologize to Ken Starr, who has done the president a favor by forcing him to confront sin. He could stop building a wall between the statements of contrition he utters and the attitude of confrontation he instructs his lawyers to maintain.
Mr. Clinton, tear down that wall. Do something good for the country by resigning, so that the healing process can begin. Instead of nibbling at the corners, listen to Reds manager Jack McKeon and, for once, throw the ball across the plate.