More Bad News for the GOP (The Truth About Ken Starr)

That foundation of integrity among conservative leaders was in fact a sludgy sinkhole. That is how we got Trump.

I’m not the least bit happy about this. In fact, it straight-up pisses me off.

In the first Bush Administration, Ken Starr was the Solicitor General and had an excellent reputation in DC as a straight-up, by-the-book, rule-of-law attorney. In fact, at one time, Bush had considered him for a Supreme Court nomination.

During the Clinton Administration, Starr was tapped as the Independent Counsel for the Whitewater investigation. In that capacity, Starr secured many indictiments and convictions. But the investigation seemed to be going nowhere.

But Clinton had another problem: Paula Jones, a former state employee, had an active sexual harassment suit against him. And that was working its way up the court system. Jones’ team had been tipped about an intern who allegedly carried on an affair with Clinton in 1996. Her name was Monica Lewinsky. Clinton made evasive denials in his deposition, and that set off an investigation by Starr.

Ultimately, the Starr report was damning to Clinton: providing explicit details of the acts in which Clinton and Lewinsky engaged. Many considered the report “TMI”, although I would argue that Clinton was the culprit: he insisted that he had no sexual relations, so that forced a detailed accounting of what the actual relations were.

(Folks, let’s get one thing straight: oral sex is sex. Some try to argue that this is not true because it technically was classified as sodomy; I disagree. Even if you accept that classification, sodomy is a form of sex, as even a perverted form of the act is still a form of the act.)

At the time, the left excoriated Starr for the tawdry details whereas the right lauded him for giving us the unvarnished truth. I was on the right (and still am): had Clinton simply admitted to the affair from the outset, none of the details would have been necessary. The blame on this is not on Starr, but rather on Clinton.

Starr was a hero of the right, and one of the most hated by the left.

To the left, he was a smear-master who produced porn as a legal filing. To the right, he was an God-and-country Eagle Scout who loved God, taught Sunday School, and was just doing his job.

He would go on to serve as the dean of the law school at Pepperdine, and the President and Chancellor at Baylor University. In 2016, he was forced to resign at Baylor due to the institutional mishandling of sexual assault cases.

At the time, some of us didn’t know to what extent he was culpable in that, although I believed he needed to resign: the buck stops at the top, and Baylor needed new leadership that would make the protection of victims a higher priority1.

When Trump was impeached, Ken Starr helped Trump’s defense.

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Sadly, the latest revelations–that Ken Starr himself carried on an affair with Judi Hershman, who was his public relations advisor during the impeachment of Clinton–are probably the last nail in the coffin of the Old Guard conservatives.

The Clinton impeachment was a Great Revealer. During that fracas–and its aftermath–many conservatives would have their own scandals laid bare for the world to notice:

  • Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) was outed for a past affair that produced a child.
  • Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), one of the leading pro-life figures in Congress, was outed for a past affair that led to the divorce of the woman.
  • Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-ID) was outed for her past affair.
  • House Speaker Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA) resigned, his affair being public knowledge. He also left his wife and married one of his aides.
  • Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA), who took over as Speaker when Gingrich resigned, was himself forced to resign when his affair came to light.
  • Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), who took over as Speaker when Livingston resigned, was eventually outed–after retiring–as having molested a high school student during his time as a wrestling coach.
  • Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) was exposed as a client of the D.C. Madame.
  • Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) was exposed for his affair with the wife of a staffer.
  • Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) was busted for soliciting a homosexual act in an airport restroom.
  • Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) was caught sending seemingly-grooming messages to teenage pages.

That foundation of integrity among conservative leaders was in fact a sludgy sinkhole. That is how we got Trump.

And now, the man who exposed Clinton–who came off at the time as squeaky clean–has now been exposed. As a friend of mine put it: “He went from taking on the abuser (Clinton) to aiding and abetting the abusers (at Baylor) to defending the abuser (Trump).”

At best, conservatism is in crisis. I would contend that conservatism is dead. They aren’t “conserving” anything worth conserving. Right now, what passes as conservatism is QAnon anti-vax hackery.

Right now it’s the Party of Moloch on one end and the party of QAnon on the other. All while we have a Church that, die to her own scandal-ridden culture, has failed to provide a counter-culture alternative to the darkness, one of unity and love, affirming compassion, care for life, acting as a refuge from the world.

The outlook does not appear to be encouraging.

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1The interim President who succeeded him was David Garland, a New Testament scholar at Truett Theological Seminary, an arm of Baylor. He had been my NT professor during my days at SBTS. His wife–Diana Garland–was a social work professor and a scholar on the issue of clergy sexual abuse. She, sadly, passed away in 2015.

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