Youll Never Know
May 30, 2000
Morris, Bill Clintons former advisor, notes in his
New York Post column that Jane Mayer was a guest at Hillary
Clintons table at a recent state dinner in honor of the president of
Who is Jane Mayer? Does the name
ring a bell?
She is the former reporter for
The New Yorker who received, and published, confidential
information from Linda Tripps personal file at the Pentagon. Mrs.
Tripp, it transpired, had been briefly arrested during her teens, a fact she
failed to disclose when she applied for her Pentagon job.
Kenneth Bacon and Chris Bernath, the
two Pentagon employees who gave her the data illegally, of course
have now been very gently reprimanded by Secretary of Defense
William Cohen. Cohen says that there was no attempt to injure
Mrs. Tripps credibility or her reputation. Apparently the
Pentagon routinely dispenses information illegally to curious
Morris doesnt buy it. Speaking
from long experience, he thinks the Clintons orchestrated the leak and
have now paid off Miss Mayer for her role in publicizing it at a critical
moment: Seats at official state dinners at the White House are
political plums which the president and the first lady use to reward their
friends and punish their enemies.
Such things do come to light every
now and then, in spite of a lot of lying and concealment. But they should
make us ask: How many other secrets are successfully hidden from the
public? What else are the Clintons doing, hiding, and getting away with
right this minute?
All rulers keep secrets;
most lie to the public; many commit crimes. When we manage to penetrate
some of their secrets, we are apt to assume that we know the full story,
and we forget that they may still be withholding far more than we will
ever discover. We know how much we know, but we never know how much
we dont know. Even a thoroughly investigated president like
Richard Nixon, after some of his misdeeds are exposed, takes many
secrets to his grave.
We can only try to guess what Bill
Clinton may still be doing and hiding from what we have already learned
about him. In a general way we know that he is corrupt and treacherous,
that he habitually lies, that he is willing to bend and break the law. But
unless he has a religious conversion and decides to confess everything, the
full truth will remain inaccessible forever.
It usually does. We sometimes think
of history as a full account of the past, the last word, complete with final
judgments and neat lessons. What does history say? we ask,
as if History rendered ultimate verdicts with a single voice. We want
History to sound like Edward Gibbon, whose Decline and Fall of the
Roman Empire seems to say, with magnificent finality, everything
that needs saying about a millennium.
But writing history is an iffy
business one of the iffiest. Under the spell of Gibbons
sonorous prose we may forget how little he actually knew. His account of
Romes decline is a tremendous feat of digesting the records of the
past, but those records are usually sketchy, partly because the Romans
didnt keep records the way we do, but also because people lied and
concealed a lot in those days too.
C.S. Lewis once tried to express the
ratio of what is known about the past to what is unknown by imagining a
huge library that had burnt down, destroying all but one line in a single
book. The known history of the world is like that single line; everything
else in the library is lost to us.
Its a delusion to think we can
know the past or the present in more than a fragmentary
way. He who is unaware of his ignorance, a wise man
observed, will be only misled by his knowledge.
For all that, history is one of the
most rewarding of studies. If nothing else, it can teach us about the
abiding tendencies of men and rulers. If you know something of the Roman
emperors, the Clintons wont take you by surprise.
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