Paul Greenberg

It'll be quite a ceremony -- you could even call it a spectacle -- at Fayetteville, Ark., come Sunday. It seems Bill Clinton is due back at the University of Arkansas, where he once taught law, to deliver the first in a new lecture series named after Dale Bumpers and his wife Betty.

It's a perfect pairing when you think about it. For it was Dale Bumpers who represented the former law professor, attorney general of Arkansas, and president of the United States at his impeachment trial and, even more impressive, got him off.

Now the duo share billing again. It'll be like the old days. Only this time recollected in tranquility. It's as if the actors were to stage a reunion long after the curtain had fallen on a farce.

Of course, Dale Bumpers would want Bill Clinton there, and of course Slick Willie -- now Slick William in his dignified older years -- would accept the invitation.

To put it as plain as only folk wisdom can, one hand washes the other -- as sure as night follows day, celebration acquittal, and academic honors high office.

There'll be no need to go into any inconvenient details on this auspicious occasion. They say a good memory is a great asset, but it's nothing compared to the advantages of a good forgettery.

O Mencken! Thou shouldst be living at this hour! The mutual flattery should be hip deep, and the speechifying grandiloquent -- a many-splendored thing. Also, a grand exercise in historical amnesia, political discretion and general vapidity of the highest order.

What is said may not be memorable -- the speaker, after all, will be Bill Clinton -- but what goes unsaid will surely resound. At least among those with memories that resist later editing.

There is a kind of genius in knowing just what not to say on such occasions. Both honorees showed a real talent for it in the course of their long and distinguished political careers. See the former president's testimony under oath, and his able counsel's folksy defense of it.

Dale Bumpers may have begun his involvement with this case by defending only one lie in a sordid little matter, but he was soon playing games with the historical record, too. So does one falsification lead to another. It happened like this:

Sen. Bumpers chose to close out his distinguished 24-year career in the United States Senate with an eloquent farewell address (all of his addresses are eloquent) in which he used a great quote from Harry S. Truman. It was his warning about the danger that the country courts when it has a president who can't be trusted to tell the truth:


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.