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Jewish World Review /Dec. 30,1998 /11 Teves 5759

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

The price of virtue

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) CAN A COUNTRY that gives a known perjurer 70 percent approval ratings be entirely wholesome?

Maybe. One interpretation was offered by Mark Steyn of the London Spectator and Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard in the January/February issue of The American Enterprise magazine. Steyn offered that "the better you know Clinton, the more you loathe him. That would seem to be a fairly general rule. And that's the difficulty because the American electorate don't often get to see him in the raw."

Ferguson agreed. "You have to watch Clinton day in and day out to understand the depth of his loathsomeness. That is why the Beltway media turned against Clinton. ... But for most people, politics is not terribly interesting. ... They just tune in every once in a while. 'Oh, there's the president with his new initiative about banning deadbeat dads from being allowed to have guns. That sounds like a good idea.' And then you turn off again and go about raising your children and doing your work."

Very true. I have liberal friends in the Washington press corps who detest Bill Clinton and would rejoice if he were removed from office. Steyn and Ferguson are exactly right that to know him is to despise him. That's why Clinton's defenders on the House Judiciary Committee went nuclear when Rep. Lindsey Graham recited chapter and verse of Clinton's embryonic plan to trash Monica Lewinsky (before the dress)They understood that those facts, if they were more generally known, would paint a picture not of someone who is well-intentioned but weak (as most Americans assume Bill Clinton is) but rather of someone who is rapacious and without mercy.

As Graham documented for the committee, and as Majority Counsel David Shippers reiterated, Bill Clinton told several aides, including Sidney Blumenthal and Betty Currie, that Monica was a "stalker." This is classically known as adding insult to injury. It is also, as William Rickenbacker once quipped in another context, a "gotterdamerung lie." Oh, and one more thing, it sounds amazingly similar to what Clinton's agents said about Paula Jones and Gennifer Flowers and Kathleen Willey ...

Another way to understand the public's tolerance of Bill Clinton's low character is to assume that Washington has become almost entirely irrelevant to the lives of most Americans. Karl Zinsmeister, editor of The American Enterprise, advances this theory. He first reproduces a series of statistics on key social indicators which seem to suggest that America has turned a corner culturally and morally.

The illegitimacy rate is trending down slightly for the U.S. population as a whole, from 47 births per 1,000 women in 1995 to 44 per 1,000 in 1997.

Among blacks, the trend is more dramatically down. The abortion rate is also down (so much for those who argued that fewer abortions will always mean more "unwanted" babies). The number of kids ages 15 to 19 who have had sexual intercourse is down from a high of 55 percent in 1990 to 50 percent in 1995.

A small change but in the right direction. The same is true for divorce, which has dropped slightly but steadily since 1980. Welfare rolls are down, as are crime rates throughout the nation.

In addition to measurable behavioral change, attitudes have undergone a shift as well. In 1990, 38 percent of Americans thought we were spending too much on welfare. In 1996, 56 percent thought so. In 1970, 50 percent thought "a letdown in moral values" was a major cause of the nation's troubles. In 1998, 62 percent thought as much. In 1979, 66 percent of working women thought quality time mattered more with children than quantity. By 1998, the percentage who agreed with that statement had dropped to 40.

If Zinsmeister is right that a conservative shift is underway, it is possible that appropriate judgmentalism is a lagging indicator. People may be choosing not to act as Bill Clinton does, but they don't yet have the confidence to judge him harshly. Just as we Americans believe in heaven but not hell, just as we want all of our children to excel with praise alone and never rebuke, we want to censure Bill Clinton but not to punish him. In time, we should learn that morality doesn't come cheap.

The price we pay for virtue is shame. You can't have one without the other.

Up

12/28/98: The gift of giving
12/22/98: Party of shame, party of shamelessness
12/18/98: Wag the country
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11/18/98: Another victory for cowardice
11/16/98: Separatism plus welfarism equals a dead end
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6/5/98: Lewinsky's ex-lawyer would feel right at home as Springer guest
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5/27/98: Romance in the '90s
5/25/98:Taxing smokers for fun and profit
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5/15/98: Look out feminists: here comes the true backlash
5/12/98: The war process?
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4/28/98: Reagan was right
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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
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2/17/98: In Denial
2/13/98: Reconsidering Theism
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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
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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?
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12/16/97: Do America's Jews support Netanyahu?


©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.