Oprah: It's interesting that people around you said that if you'd told the truth about Monica in the beginning, you would've been thrown out. But do you think you missed a moment of spiritual, moral leadership?

Clinton: I think I missed that moment by doing what I did. There was probably a way to make it right, but I was so disoriented. At the time, I was so preconditioned by the battering I'd taken for the previous three years, and the fight I knew I was up against with Starr. If this had come out and there had been no Ken Starr and no history of what they'd done to people, I obviously would have handled it in a completely different way. If he hadn't been there, I would have told people in a respectful and nonprurient way what happened, then apologized for it and trusted that everybody would figure it out.

It's easy for people to make judgments about this now and say, "Bill Clinton should have done this, that, or the other thing." They cannot imagine. And I hope no human being reading this will ever have to experience what it was like to have somebody on you for seven years with one goal: to send you and your wife to prison or to disgrace you by making up whatever had to be made up to find whatever had to be found. They knew early on that the Whitewater thing was a total fraud. They had to know. The Resolution Trust Corporation did an honest and independent inquiry by a Republican-appointed U.S. attorney and put out the whole report in 1996. The people involved in the Whitewater thing literally covered it [the RTC inquiry] up. There wasn't 2 percent of the American people who knew I'd already been exonerated by a completely independent Republican inquiry.

Oprah: When you wrote in your Rhodes scholar essay that you wanted to have the intellectual capacity to accept the pressures of political life, did you have any idea that these kinds of attacks would be part of that?

Clinton: No. I spent a lot of time in my second term trying to figure it out. I kept asking, "Why is this happening?" I realized that part of the attack was an outgrowth of the rise of the religious and militantly antigovernment political Right in reaction to the sixties. They really disliked me. Part of it was they thought they had a formula for defeating Democrats, and I beat it and got elected. But part of it is that our country is at its fourth big turning point in history, when we have to redefine the terms of our union—how we'll relate to each other and to the rest of the world. Every time this has happened before when the future was in doubt, when the battle had been joined and not resolved, politics were more personal. The only real parallel for what I went through—other than during McCarthyism—was in the early days of the Republic. After George Washington left, the terms of our union were not defined. We were basically unified by what we were against, which was British domination. Then we had to decide, "What are we for? What does the United States mean?" The two big questions we had to decide were whether we'd be a national or a state economy, and whether we'd have a national legal system. Once we resolved those questions, we had 40 years of calm in politics. There were still big debates. Mistakes were still made, and good things were done. But from 1800 to 1840, we were a stable country politically.