Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: Journals reviewed by Douglas Brinkley

Historians in the News

When President Bill Clinton was undergoing his impeachment woes, true-blue allies were in short supply. As Republicans gleefully rallied around the Starr Report, many Democrats went into duck-and-cover mode. Denouncing impeachment as GOP overreach, they nevertheless admitted that Clinton's behavior was wrong. Not, however, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. With his able co-conspirator historians Sean Wilentz and C. Vann Woodward, Schlesinger organized Historians in Defense of the Constitution. Signed by more than 400 historians, the galvanic circular issued by Schlesinger and company claimed that Starr had lowered the impeachment bar into the rat-infested gutter.

Columnists such as William Safire and David Broder mocked the Schlesinger-Wilentz-Woodward statement as a pro-Democratic stunt, to be expected, they said, from the historian who put the capital C in John F. Kennedy's Camelot. And there was certainly some truth in their offhanded dismissal. But in "Journals: 1952-2000," Schlesinger, who died earlier this year, explains that he never thought Clinton had lied in the first place. "I wonder whether there is not some ambiguity in the term 'sexual relations,' " Schlesinger mused in an Aug. 5, 1998 entry. "Oral sex can leave a woman's virginity intact; penetration is a completed sexual relationship. Norman Mailer says that there is an old Arkansas saying: 'It ain't a sin if you don't stick it in.' Newt Gingrich told a mistress that he preferred a blowjob because he could truthfully say that he had not slept with her. The President may well mean one thing by 'sexual relations'; the special prosecutor another."...
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