Executive editor David Neff was hooked up by transatlantic telephone line to the BBC Radio 4 program The Moral Maze, a weekly ethics-oriented talk show on which panelists display their British wit and wisdom at its most caustic.

The first question the host fired at him was: "Is your American President a liar?"

Neff wished he had had the wit to say, "Well that all depends on what liar means." But instead, he told the BBC's listeners that the American people had plenty of evidence before they elected him that Bill Clinton frequently did not tell the truth. President Clinton is a charming person who inspires confidence. As a child in a dysfunctional alcoholic home, he learned to please, to avoid conflict, and to disarmingly reveal his vulnerability while denying any responsibility for a bad situation. He developed the sort of charisma that makes you want to trust him, even against your better judgment. The American people did not want a moral leader, Neff said, so much as they wanted a President they could identify with.

That helps to explain why the release of the videotapes of the President's grand jury testimony not only confirmed people's beliefs that he had lied to them, but also increased their sympathy for him. They squirmed with him, as they watched him try to wriggle off the hook of the prosecutors' questions.

Has the cult of victimhood come to this? exclaimed one panelist. Indeed. What we seem to have in the Oval Office is not so much a chief executive as a First Victim, the King of Vulnerability in the Land of Oprah.

Home of the whopper

We are in this autumn of our discontent, not because Kenneth Starr caught the President in a lie, but because the grand palace of spin and deception which this president has constructed ...

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