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Jewish World Review /Jan. 27, 1999 /10 Shevat, 5759

Don Feder

Don Feder The 'so-what' defense in the City of Saints

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) WHEN IT COMES TO THE MORAL DUMBING-DOWN of America, offhand remarks are often the most chilling.

In coverage of the burgeoning scandal in Salt Lake City -- the bribery of Olympic officials to secure the 2002 Winter Games -- a local reporter was asked what if any impact this will have on Utah politics.

Not much, he airily observed. "People are used to it." Meaning, presumably, that after the Starr Report, everything else is anticlimatic.

In the City of Saints, the public is used to corruption, accustomed to bribery, inured to tales of businessmen with a financial interest arranging for call girls for visiting Olympic officials?

If so, what is the prevailing moral climate in Los Angeles, New York City and the Louisiana penal system?

While visions of interns in thong bikinis, twirling cigars like batons, dance through our heads, a mini-drama (no more than a diversion, next to the center-ring attraction in Washington) plays itself out.

With the president on trial for perjury and obstruction of justice, what's a little baksheesh -- gifts of guns, skis, scholarships and cash payments exceeding $70,000 -- to certain members of the International Olympic Committee and their families?

Here we can see the possibilities for a broader application of the so-what defense, so cleverly crafted by Clinton apologists. Everybody lies about sex, right? Potential site cities regularly bribe Olympic big shots to get the games, right?

There are reports that a Japanese businessman spent nearly $22,000 on each of 62 visiting members of the IOC to get the Winter Olympics in Nagano. After all, when it comes to venality, America has to remain competitive in the world market.

Forgive me; this is gallows humor. It is our civilization that stands over the trapdoor with a noose around its neck.

On the eve of the president's State of the Union Address, 81 percent of the American people rated his presidency a "success," according to one poll. Not to play Clintonian word games, but precisely how do they define success?

The Great Fornicator has succeeded in defiling the office of president. He has succeeded in dishonoring an institution we grew up regarding with a reverence verging on awe. Like the Olympic torch, the presidential seal has lost its luster.

He invites us to join in the fun, as he smirks and snickers through it all.

Dignity no longer matters. Duty is passe. Shame is a four-letter word. Breaking a solemn pledge (a wedding vow, an oath of office, or an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth) is rationalized away by talk-show habitues.

Republicans who say it's the perjury, stupid (not the sex, stupid), are reinforcing a dangerous illusion. Of course, adultery isn't an impeachable offense. But to shrug it off so cavalierly is to trivialize it.

The president turned a 23-year-old intern into a sex toy. Even without perjury, conspiracy and obstruction of justice, this alone should mark him as an utter failure were the Dow Jones to break 20,000 and the budget surplus to exceed the national debt.

During the Reagan years, the media sneered at the theory of a trickle-down effect in economics. Values seep down, too.

It's not that we didn't have sexual scandal, bribery and corruption in government 30 or 40 years ago. But we didn't shrug it off.

We hadn't become acclimated to it. We weren't constantly told that it's the norm (everybody does it), so get used to it, that all that matters is our full bellies and our fat mutual funds.

Public morality is largely a matter of agreeing that these things matter.

When we lose our sense of outrage over local officials bribing members of the International Olympics Committee, over a president playing perverted games with a woman barely out of adolescence, over the occupant of the nation's highest office (who's charged with seeing that the laws are faithfully enforced) lying under oath to sabotage a federal civil-rights suit, we kindle a flame that will ultimately consume the republic.

We all want safe streets, good neighbors, strangers who show us kindness and courtesy, and all of the other amenities of true civilization.

They don't exist in a vacuum. Virtue doesn't come naturally; in fact, it is contrary to human nature. It has to be inculcated. Here, as elsewhere, we teach by example.

Important as it is, honoring virtue (bravery, honesty, compassion) isn't enough in and of itself. If we fail to condemn vice, if we neglect the punishment of corrupters, betrayers and oath-breakers, if we give a worldly wink at evil, goodness will wither and die.

We can't have decency without accountability. A society in moral free-fall is heading for a historic crackup.


1/25/99: Whose choice?
1/21/99: Censure worse than nothing
1/18/99: Words can`t dignify a dishonored presidency
1/13/99: Conservatism "with a heart" is conservatism without a head
1/11/99: If he isn't removed, watch out for Bill!
1/07/99: We can learn a lot from Teddy
1/05/99: Monica and a call to modesty
12/30/98: Will Bubba get away with it again?
12/28/98: Zionist dream alive and well on West Bank
12/18/98: Impeach or abandon the Rule of Law
12/16/98: Clinton moves Middle East closer to war
12/14/98: Why we lost interest in the homeless
12/10/98: No place at table for conservatives
12/07/98: The day America lost its innocence
12/02/98: Pilgrims Pilloried in streets of Plymouth
11/30/98: Caribbean dogpatch not a good candidate for statehood
11/25/98: Will Vermont force gay marriage on the nation?
11/23/98: The ACLU wants your kids to get a love life
11/18/98: Why liberals hate tobacco and guns more than drugs and crime
11/16/98: "Pleasantville" a countercultural morality play
11/13/98: Ads are a tough sell for abortion
11/09/98: Why gutless Republicans lost
11/06/98: Historians against the Constitution
11/02/98: Loving response to a hateful conference
10/28/98: Professor Death will fit right in at Princeton
10/26/98: Plymouth caves to Pilgrim foes
10/21/98: On '98 election, keep a critical eye on polls
10/19/98: Clinton could yet be 'prosperity president'
10/16/98: Working families -- Dems love 'em (stuffed)
10/09/98: Majoring in 'weirdness'
10/07/98: Friends of Billy Clinton
9/29/98: Letter from ex-soldier highlights defense peril
9/28/98: Answering arguments against impeachment
9/18/98: The nation that doesn't exist
9/14/98: Bubba isn't the only one who should be ashamed
9/11/98: Resolution of Clinton crisis will define national character
9/09/98: We're still just wild about Harry
9/07/98: Mexican banditry didn't end with Pancho Villa
9/02/98: Clinton forgives us!
8/31/98: Ashcroft's plain talking touches responsive chord
8/26/98: Public opinion be damned
8/24/98: Why liberals condone Clinton's lies
8/20/98: Time to move on -- to impeachment
8/12/98: With Bubba in the sexual privacy zone
8/10/98: The truth won't set Clinton free
8/06/98: Truth about Hiroshima is incontrovertible
8/04/98: Clinton not the first hollow president
7/30/98: "Small Soldiers" -- a fractured Vietnam allegory
7/27/98: Crime wave hits hometown
7/22/98: Love in an Internet fishbowl
7/20/98: Ads bring ex-gay movement out of closet
7/15/98: Brian and Amy -- the children of Roe
7/13/98: Why are we scared of obnoxious 'activists?'
7/6/98: Fonda still resists reality
7/1/98: New York blesses domestic partnerships
6/29/98: Teddy and Calvin stood for virtue
6/24/98: Will Clinton betray Taiwan?
6/22/98: Big tobacco? What about big casinos?
6/15/98: Religion -- God for what ails you
6/10/98: Planning Clinton's China itinery
6/8/98: Republicans' Custer offers advice
6/4/98: Oh, Dems Christian-bashers!
6/2/98: Goldwater did conservatives more harm than good
5/27/98: A Clinton-hater confesses
5/15/98: Giuliani's assault on marriage
5/13/98: Hillary knows what's best for everyone
5/11/98: To honor her would not be honorable
5/6/98: Conservative chasm: pragmatism vs. worship of marketplace
5/4/98: Anglo-saxon me
4/29/98: Needle exchange programs are assisted-suicide
4/27/98: Chretien's mission of mercy to Fidel
4/22/98: School-choice is a religious freedom issue
4/20/98: Corporate execs deliver body parts to Beijing
4/14/98: National sales tax --- looks better all the time
4/13/98: The U.N. sinister? Hey, where did that idea come from?
4/8/98: Unions fight workers rights in 226 campaign
3/30/98: Africa's leaders should apologize
3/25/98: GOP shouldn't look to media for advice
3/22/98: You should care about Clinton's 'private life'
3/19/98: Color-coded reading, product of obsessive minds
3/16/98: Amendment will end exile of G-d from our public lives
3/9/98: Havana will break your heart
3/2/98: Vouchers Terrify Teachers' Union
2/25/98: Presidential politics starts at a resort hotel
2/23/98: Hillary's support comes at a price
2/18/98: How many times must we say "no" to gay rights?
2/16/98: Enoch Powell spoke the truth on immigration
2/11/98: Bubba behaving badly
2/9/98: A conservative dissent on the flag-burning amendment
2/5/98: We get the leaders we deserve
2/2/98: Send a signal that could penetrate boardroom doors
1/27/98: State of the president: hollow rhetoric
1/25/98: For Monica's playmate, we have no one to blame but ourselves
1/22/98: At Yale, bet on yarmulke over gown
1/19/98: Commission tackles America's fastest-growing addiction, gambling
1/15/98: Capital punishment and the hard case: no exceptions for Karla Faye Tucker
1/12/98: Partial-birth abortion and the GOP's future: the "big tent" meets truth in advertising
1/8/98: IOLTA: the Left's latest scam to crawl into our pockets
1/5/98: Connect the dots to create a terrorist state
1/1/98: The Unacceptables of 1997: Long may they rave
12/28/97: Hypocrisy is a liberal survival mechanism
12/23/97: Chanukah is no laughing matter
12/22/97: No merry Christmas for persecuted Christians around the world
12/18/97: Bosnia, Haiti, and how not to conduct a foreign policy

©1998, Boston Herald; distributed by Creators Syndicate, Inc.