Paging Stuart Smalley

Twenty-five years ago, I was a 19-year-old college kid joyously wallowing in Watergate. The previous fall I'd volunteered for the McGovern campaign, in Mississippi, where we got about 20 percent of the vote. It was character-building to experience such crushing defeat at such a tender age. And it made the vengeance of Watergate that much sweeter.

As this is written, the Senate trial of President Clinton is beginning. Even at this late date, not many people are wallowing in Clinton's perjury and obstruction problems the way we did with the unraveling of Nixon's police-state ambitions. It all seems like a bad soap opera, and, like most Americans, I've tried mightily to avoid knowing too much about it.

Then, when the House debated impeachment in December, I happened to be spending seven hours in a car. Thanks to National Public Radio, I heard about as much of the debate as any reasonable person could endure. Now I'm following the story, at last, and experiencing some pop cultural flashbacks in the process, but not from the Watergate '70s.

In a 1965 song called "It's All Right, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," Bob Dylan wrote the famous words "Sometimes even the President of the United States must have to stand naked." The president then was Lyndon Johnson. LBJ once pulled up his shirt to display a fresh surgical scar to the White House press corps and was known to hold conversations with aides while seated on the toilet. But Dylan seemed to have emotional and spiritual nakedness on his mind—the nudity that is every human's state before God.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1999
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