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Jewish World Review Jan. 26, 2001/ 3 Shevat, 5761

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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The challenge to be better than we have been -- PRESIDENT W.'S inaugural address waxed poetic. Even Newsweek's Howard Fineman conceded eloquence and respectable delivery. But Bush references to the road to Jericho, Mother Teresa, and G-d made the Washington crowd nervous. Evan Thomas, also of Newsweek, was flummoxed over Bush's quote about "an Angel who rides the Whirlwind," and explained, "He was quoting a Virginia statesman named John Page who wrote Thomas Jefferson after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, marveling that the tiny, fledgling republic could break away from the British Empire. Bush, who presses his eyes tight shut when he prays and often reads the Bible in the early morning, was earnestly asking for the Deity to continue to watch over 'the American story.'"

It was not until this daft observation that I fully understood the intensity of Clinton proponents, the animosity of Ashcroft's harassers, and the aloofness of the seed-planting Jesse Jackson fans. Mr. Thomas and the rest of the fourth estate, along with their Democratic constituency, have basked so long in the lazy comfort of Clinton nihilism that religion is mysterious hieroglyphics to them. Mr. Thomas writes of Bible reading and earnest supplication as if describing an alien imbibing at the Star Wars bar.

Despite Mr. Thomas's obvious ignorance of prayer etiquette, he is surely bright enough to figure out that Clinton keeping his eyes ajar during prayer was for trolling, photo ops or out of sheer fear of being struck down.

Mr. Clinton has left his imprimatur on politics, the presidency and the pundits. Until the last minute he continued to rob the office of its dignity with a plea bargain his minions promptly denounced as meaningless, hedonistic levels and choices of pardons, and a disgraceful grab for the spotlight on the very day when the peaceful transfer of power and its accompanying ceremony and symbolism demand a ride into the sunset. In his fourth of five final addresses, three of which were on President's Bush's inauguration day, Mr. Clinton said, "I may have left the White House, but I'm still here."

Mr. Clinton departed Andrews Air Force Based after an agonizing hour of split-screen coverage on Mr. Bush's day. The juxtaposition was telling for the Clintons remain the ever-present, self-indulgent moochers. Upon landing at JFK, there was a political rally, complete with the Senator wife thanking unions. Can one imagine Margaret Thatcher stooping so low? Madonna left the MTV awards with more dignity. To the end, the Clintons were white trash - the kind that never stops partying long enough to pay the rent. The kind that demands free food and complains of the quality even as demanding seconds. They have been the tacky in red at funerals, the hustlers at family reunions, the drunks at the wedding reception, raining on the bride's parade. Having dealt with a shallow showman and his Charlotte McCarthy for so long, the press and country were caught unprepared. A nation self-anesthetized by quaffing the punch of feel-goodism was stunned when called upon to remember, "We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests . . ." Mr. Bush took us back to the nation's founding when self-interest deferred to a higher authority.

While there are varying schools of thought on the role of religion among the founders, they were at least Deists. They were statesmen because they believed in accountability beyond the next election. Their perceived role of religion in this democracy, to which the "extreme" Christian right subscribes, is not one of imposing its beliefs on others. The role of religion is one of defiance, not of the laws of the land, but of the lax inner self. It is a defiance that commands respect in its belief that we are better than living for the moment.

Religion renders unto Caesar that which Caesar, often unreasonably, demands. But, ultimate accountability is not to Caesar. Of this Mr. Bush spoke. When he did, we were reminded of our spirituality. After 8 dormant years, Mr. Bush's speech was a broom for the cobwebs on our morality.

The hearings on John Ashcroft's appointment as attorney general are a microcosm of what the Clinton era hath wrought. The liberal panic is not feigned for purposes of fund-raising brochures. Senator Ashcroft and President Bush are men of faith, a new breed from a very old school who have assumed the reins of power. They frighten Clintonians because they believe in principle, not politics. Mr. Bush and Senator Ashcroft both understand that the law of the land is Roe v. Wade, but that law is not immune from criticism, nor does it silence them or others who seek to persuade others that we are surely good enough people to protect the lives of the unborn.

This is a republic founded by rebellious spirits accountable to their G-d, not addicted to power. For those who have lived the politics of personal destruction for nearly a decade, being outmaneuvered by novices who ask only that we be better than this Clinton man hell bent on only leaving the building, not the spotlight. The bone-chilling wave over the inauguration was not the weather - it was the Sixth Sense of spirituality settling in after 8 years of hot licentiousness.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings