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Jewish World Review /September 23, 1998 / 3 Tishrei 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

A fork in the road: Bubba's fate and ours

SO NOW WE HAVE FROM PRESIDENT CLINTON'S own mouth his justification for lying, under oath, in the Paula Jones case. He told the grand jury that since he regarded the Jones team as political enemies who were bent on hurting him, he owed no obligation to tell the truth. Funny, it sounds exactly like his rationalization for taking illegal campaign contributions in 1996. If he lost the election, he explained, the Republicans would dismantle Medicare, cripple education and pollute the waters. This is known as "the end justifies the means" --- and people who seriously reason this way are dangerous.

From the Clinton scandals, only one of two outcomes is possible. Either this will be remembered as the time when the let-it-all-hang-out morality of the 1960s was finally repudiated, or it will be recalled as the moment when that morality triumphed. If this president is not disgraced, he will be rehabilitated, and his rehabilitation will serve to ratify lying and polymorphous immorality.

At this moment, it is hard to imagine Bill Clinton's reclamation. But it could easily happen. All of the habits and traditions of the nation will flow in that direction. When the president delivers the State of the Union message in January, the entire honor guard of American government will rise to its feet in extended tribute. It is simply impossible to imagine a more nuanced reception -- namely polite applause lasting perhaps 30 seconds and no more. Members of Congress cannot so finely calibrate their responses. This is the '90s after all, not Edith Wharton's America.

The office implies moral rectitude, and it is a national reflex to offer obeisance to it. When the president presents an initiative on drugs or illegitimacy or tobacco, or when he appoints people to serve in government or threatens a foreign power, his imprimatur is heavily weighted. In contrast to the argument now advanced by the White House, morality is fundamental to everything a president does.

Seven Boy Scouts from Utah have announced that they do not wish to see this president's signature on their Eagle Scout certificates (a tribute to the uprightness of Utah and the Boy Scouts), but if the president holds office six months from today, the simple performance of such tasks -- to say nothing of larger ones like bombing terrorists --- will lull the nation into comfort with his tawdriness.

Aristotle spoke of the "habits of virtue" because he understood that the mere repetition of immoral acts corrupts the soul. It is no different with an electorate. If the president performs his functions day to day, most people will very rapidly forget what all the fuss was about. In fact, it is virtually certain that if President Clinton is not removed from office, personal morality (all of it) will be deemed irrelevant to presidential fitness.

In the Weekly Standard, David Frum offers the crucial insight that Richard Nixon was not impeached because he was disgraced; he was disgraced because he was impeached. (He resigned before trial.)

The decision by the Republican majority to release President Clinton's videotaped testimony before the grand jury has been decried by Democrats as nothing more than an attempt to shame and humiliate Clinton. Not exactly. It is clearly impossible to shame this president. Any normal man would have resigned long ago rather than face the humiliation of the Starr Report. No, the hope is not that President Clinton will be shamed but rather that the inertial electorate will finally bestir itself and shake him off. Members of Congress who know their duty but continue to shoot nervous glances at opinion polls hope that videotape is mightier than the printed word.

If the process of impeachment is thwarted, by a deal or by anything short of resignation, the principle that presidents may with impunity hold the electorate and the law in contempt will be established. Are the 56 percent of Americans who want Clinton to serve out his term unmindful of the precedential effect? What will the next "private" sin be? Do we want perjurers, extortionists and thieves to believe the electorate doesn't care about character?

Republicans and the press are united, for once, in believing this man to be unworthy. That alone ought to make the voters take notice.


9/18/98: Christianity and the Holocaust
9/16/98: The national dirty joke
9/11/98: Are we in crisis?
9/09/98: Does Burton's sin let Clinton off the hook?
9/07/98: Liar's Poker
9/01/98: One, two, three
8/28/98: Fat and folly
8/25/98: When homework is a dirty word
8/21/98: The unravelling
8/18/98: The wages of dishonesty
8/17/98: Sex, honor and the presidency
8/12/98: Pro-choice extremist
8/10/98: Switch illuminates biology's role
8/05/98: The presumption of innocence and the American way
8/03/98: An American hero
7/29/98: Lock up those who need psychiatric care
7/24/98: Making the military more like us
7/22/98: The 'Net sex hoax... and us
7/20/98: Disappointed by Cosbys
7/15/98: Feelings, not morality, rule
7/10/98: Guns as the solution?
7/8/98: Teacher preacher
7/6/98: The China behind the headlines
7/1/98: What is the First Amendment for?
6/26/98: The Republican city
6/24/98: Poison pen
6/22/98: Clinton: inventing his own reality?
6/16/98: Senator mom?
6/12/98: Wisconsin: a trail blazer?
6/9/98: These girls say no to sex, yes to excellence
6/5/98: Lewinsky's ex-lawyer would feel right at home as Springer guest
6/2/98: English? Si; Republican? No!
5/29/98: The truth about women and work
5/27/98: Romance in the '90s
5/25/98:Taxing smokers for fun and profit
5/19/98: China's friend in the White House
5/15/98: Look out feminists: here comes the true backlash
5/12/98: The war process?
5/8/98: Where's daddy?
5/5/98: The joys of boys
5/1/98: Republicans move on education reform
4/28/98: Reagan was right
4/24/98: The key to Pol Pot
4/21/98: The patriot's channel
4/19/98: Child-care day can't replace mom
4/15/98: Tax time
4/10/98: Armey states obvious, gets clobbered
4/7/98: A nation complacent?
4/1/98: Bill Clinton's African adventure
3/27/98: Understanding Arkansas
3/24/98: Jerry Springer's America
3/20/98: A small step for persecuted minorities
3/17/98: Skeletons in every closet?
3/13/98: Clinton's idea of a fine judge
3/10/98: Better than nothing?
3/6/98: Of fingernails and freedom
3/3/98: Read JWR! :0)
2/27/98: Dumb and Dumber
2/24/98: Reagan reduced poverty more than Clinton
2/20/98: Rally Round the United Nations?
2/17/98: In Denial
2/13/98: Reconsidering Theism
2/10/98: Waiting for the facts?
2/8/98: Cat got the GOP's tongue?
2/2/98: Does America care about immorality?
1/30/98: How to judge Clinton's denials
1/27/98: What If It's Just the Sex?
1/23/98: Bill Clinton, Acting Guilty
1/20/98: Arafat and the Holocaust Museum
1/16/98: Child Care or Feminist Agenda?
1/13/98: What We Really Think of Abortion
1/9/98: The Dead Era of Budget Deficits Rises Again?
1/6/98: "Understandable" Murder and Child Custody
1/2/98: Majoring in Sex
12/30/97: The Spirit of Kwanzaa
12/26/97: Food fights (Games children play)
12/23/97: Does Clinton's race panel listen to facts?
12/19/97: Welcome to the Judgeocracy, where the law school elite overrules majority rule
12/16/97: Do America's Jews support Netanyahu?

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.