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Jewish World Review / August 14, 1998 / 22 Menachem-Av, 5758

Cal Thomas

Cal Thomas Untruths, half-truths and anything but the truth

AS PRESIDENT CLINTON PREPARES TO testify before a grand jury Monday, his dwindling number of true-believer supporters have been reduced to speaking absurdities. CNN "Crossfire'' co-host Bill Press wonders whether there would be a "DNA stain'' on Monica Lewinsky's dress if the president has had a vasectomy. And full-time spinner Lanny Davis even suggests that the dress may be soiled with "someone else's semen.''

This is where decades of inattention to private and public virtue has brought us.

Much of the debate now centers on whether the president will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help him God. Of course, he won't. Not when his entire life has been built on a house of cards made up solely of jokers. In his new book, Finish Strong,: former Miami Herald publisher Richard Capen Jr. quotes Rabbi Wayne Dosick as saying: "The reality is, if we tell the truth, we only have to tell the truth once. If you lie, you have to keep lying forever.''

Does it make sense that anyone who is a truth-teller would behave as this president does? His inconsistencies and bald-faced lies have covered a political career and a personal life in which truth is the casualty of whatever promotes his own interests and personal pleasure. A truth-teller doesn't need a Hollywood producer to help him with body language and acting skills or to scorch the Earth with the bodies of those who tell the truth about him.

Ervin C. Hargrove, professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, writes in his new book, The President as Leader: "Truth-telling and persuasion are better instruments of action in American democracy than lying, control and demagogy as long as citizens respond to 'the better angels of our nature.' Leadership based on those two principles has two consequences for the quality of democratic life. It nourishes the practice of truth-telling in politics, thus permitting us to potentially confront the real problems that face us. And American democracy must receive infusions of idealistic leadership if it is to be true to the purposes for which the Union was founded."

Hargrove also argues that the presidency is a "seat of power and an engine for policy making, but it is also a moral agent for the articulation of the ideals of American democracy. The character of American governmental institutions and political culture invites presidents to be moral leaders."

Who among us considers Bill Clinton a moral leader or even a moral agent? His policies and ability to lead have been rendered impotent in direct proportion to his unwillingness to tell the truth. How many of us hire people for important jobs, from day care to home repair, without first checking their references, including character references? The first implied or direct question we want answered is, Are they honest? How much more so in a president?

Bill Clinton is like food poisoning. We're going to have to wait until he passes out of our system. Still, he accurately reflects the valueless society that twice elected him. If we care only about material things and not moral things; if we're carrying on in our personal lives as if judgment day will never come; if we think we can do as we please, why shouldn't we expect a president who reflects the majority behavior and opinion?

The fault is not entirely in our president. It is in ourselves. To hold him accountable means we would have to hold ourselves accountable. So we lie and we'll tolerate the lies of Bill Clinton, even to a grand jury, because to do otherwise would mean we would have to confess our own individual and collective guilt. And as the man said in the '70s about love, in the '90s politics means never having to say you're sorry. Or having to tell the truth.


8/12/98: Lying under oath: past and present impeachable offenses
8/10/98: Endangered species
8/04/98: In search of an unstained president
7/31/98: The UK is ahead of US in one area...
7/28/98: Murder near and far
7/21/98: Telling the truth about
homosexual behavior
7/17/98: One Nation? Indivisible?
7/14/98: Who cares about killing when the 'good times' are rolling?
7/10/98: George W. Bush: a different 'boomer'
7/08/98: My lunch with Roy Rogers
7/06/98: News unfit to print (or broadcast)
6/30/98: Smoke gets in their eyes
6/25/98: Sugar and Spice Girls
6/19/98: William Perry opposed
technology transfers to China
6/19/98: The Clinton hare vs.the Starr tortoise
6/17/98: The President's rocky road to China
6/15/98: Let the children go
6/9/98: Oregon: the new killing fields
6/5/98: Speaking plainly: the cover-up continues
6/2/98: Barry Goldwater: in our hearts
5/28/98:The Speaker's insightful remarks
5/26/98: As bad as it gets
5/25/98:Union dues and don'ts
5/21/98: Connecting those Chinese campaign contribution dots
5/19/98: Clinton on the couch
5/13/98: John Ashcroft: another Jimmy Carter?
5/8/98: Terms of dismemberment
5/5/98: Clinton's tangled Webb
4/30/98: Return of the Jedi
4/28/98: Desparately seeking Susan
4/23/98: RICO's threat to free-speech and expression
4/21/98: Educating children v. preserving an institution
4/19/98: Analyzing the birth of a possible new nation
4/14/98: What's fair about our tax system?
4/10/98: CBS: 'Touched by a perv'
4/8/98: Judge Wright's wrong reasoning on sexual harassment
4/2/98: How about helping American cities before African?
3/31/98:Revenge of the children
3/29/98: The Clinton strategy: delay, deceive, deny, and destroy
3/26/98: Moralist Gary Hart
3/23/98: CNN's century of (liberal) women
3/17/98: Dandy Dan
3/15/98: An imposed 'settlement' settles nothing
3/13/98: David Brock's Turnabout

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Inc.