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Jewish World Review / August 18, 1998/ 26 Menachem-Av 5758

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez Is our 'broken-compass'
beyond fixing?

IF EVER THE STORY IS WRITTEN of how America came to lose its moral compass, this week's grand jury testimony by President Clinton will mark the final turning point. The story is not merely about a president who couldn't control his sexual appetites and then lied about it repeatedly. No, this is the story about the American people and how we came to believe that lying, so long as it is about sex, is OK, and lying by a president, even if it's under oath, is no grounds to impeach him. This story began long before Bill Clinton became president.

Did it work?
Once upon a time in America, we taught our children that lying was wrong, and the story we used to impart such virtue concerned another American president. Generations of schoolchildren learned the tale of the young George Washington, who chopped down his father's cherry tree and then admitted his sin. "I cannot tell a lie," the young George confessed. And children learned that a good and honorable person would rather face punishment than deceive another.

But then a few decades ago, Americans became too sophisticated for the likes of Parson Weems' popular tale. After all, it wasn't strictly speaking a true story about the nation's first president, whose reputation was busily being deconstructed by a new breed of historians committed to exposing the atrocities of dead, white, European males. Out went the simple lessons meant to teach right from wrong, and in their place came exercises in "values clarification," replete with moral dilemmas that invited children to decide for themselves what situations turned lying, cheating, stealing, even killing, into the best choice available.

The most famous of these classroom drills asked children to decide whom they would throw overboard from a lifeboat built for five but which carried six persons. The materials directed teachers not to allow students to come up with strategies to save everyone, since the point of the lesson was to force children to decide for themselves which lives they valued most. Did a young, strong criminal who might row the boat to safety deserve to live more than an innocent child or an elderly and frail woman, for example? You get the point, all lives are relative -- as is morality in general.

For more than two generations now, we have indoctrinated the young with the creed of moral relativism. Is it any wonder that polls now show that a majority of Americans believe that even if the president lied under oath, it's a relatively trivial matter? What is surprising is how much momentum the slide down the slippery slope has gained in just the last few months. In February, 50 percent of Americans said they believed that "if President Clinton lied under oath about having a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky," he should be impeached. By mid-August that number had fallen to only 29 percent.

It is as if Americans have constructed their own lifeboat exercise. They've decided that Bill Clinton may be a moral reprobate, but so far, he's steered the country through peace and prosperity. Should they really toss him overboard when they're not sure who else can row the country as ably into the next century?

The problem with such reasoning, however, is that this lifeboat we've created has so mired the country in the muck that we may never recover as a nation. When a majority of Americans can tell themselves that lying under oath is not a serious offense, the rule of law that is the foundation of our democracy has begun to crumble.

Once we were a nation that believed no man was above the law. Today, we seem to believe that the president can interpret the law as he chooses and decide which ones he will obey. President Clinton's legacy will be one long series of moral dilemmas in which Americans chose an ephemeral healthy economy above truth and law.


8/11/98: Reno's risk
8/04/98: When Truth is of the highest odor
7/28/98: No way to protect ourselvesagainst a nut's wrath
7/22/98: These 'choice' advocates are being demonzied ... by the Left.
7/15/98: Will 'neonaticide' become the new buzzword?
7/07/98: Urge to mega-merge, stopped in time
6/30/98: Why take responsibility if
somebody else will pay?
6/23/98: Blinded by the red, or is it the green?
6/17/98: Flotsam in the wake of romance
6/10/98: We have a ways to go in the bilingual war
6/3/98: Tyson's triumph over tragedy
5/28/98: Why Univision's Perenchio is out to hurt his fellow Hispanics
5/20/98: Sometimes Buba actually tells the truth ... as he sees it
5/12/98: Chill-out on the chihuahua and ... Seinfeld
5/8/98: The revolution is just about over
4/28/98: Let's face it: both parties are full of hypocrites
4/21/98: Legislating equality
4/14/98: One down, many to go
4/7/98: Mexican mayhem?
3/31/98: Of death and details
3/25/98: Americans are unaware of NATO expansion
3/18/98: Intellectual-ghettoes in the name of diversity
3/11/98: Be careful what you wish for ...
3/4/98: The Press' Learning-disability
2/25/98: 50 States Are Enough!
2/18/98: Casey at the Mat
2/11/98: The legal profession's Final Solution
2/4/98: Faith and the movies
1/28/98: Clinton, Lewinsky, and Politics Vs. Principle
1/21/98: Movement on the Abortion Front
1/14/98: Clones, Courts, and Contradictions
1/7/98: Child custody or child endangerment?
12/31/97: Jerry Seinfeld, All-American
12/24/97: Affirmative alternatives: New initiatives for equal opportunity are out there
12/17/97: Opening a window of opportunity (a way out of bilingual education for California's Hispanic kids)

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.