The scandals surrounding the Clinton White House, and the public's response to them, is symptomatic of a problem far more devastating than a president committing perjury and obstruction. We've had presidents, such as Warren Harding and Richard Nixon, who disgraced their office and our basic institutions survived. But this is the first time in our history we've had a president disgrace his office and receive widespread political and public support while doing so.
Most Americans chalk up Clinton's behavior in the Monica Lewinsky scandal to "understandable lies and coverup about sex." For them a president committing clearly criminal acts like perjury, subornation of perjury and obstruction of justice are okay if it's "just about sex." I'm wondering how far we're willing to go with that principle. After all some people have murdered, assaulted and blackmailed to conceal an illicit sex affair. I pray Americans will never accept those acts because they're "just about sex."
Most Americans want us to forget the whole thing. Those who believe some action should be taken against the President think censure is enough. The Constitution makes no provision for censure. The only authority Congress has is impeachment and removal from office. Some point to public opinion polls and the recent elections and say, the people have spoken; they don't want impeachment and removal! My question is: are we a nation of laws or mob rule? If we accept mob rule for Clinton, should mob rule decide the fate of other Americans who've committed criminal acts? If not, why not?
There's another twist. Americans have cheered and supported the White House's scathing attack on duly appointed court officers investigating the President's criminal acts. Are we now ready to accept the principle that subjects of criminal investigations can use every means at their disposal to attack court officers and intimidate jurors and witnesses?
Liberty and civility are fragile. At the minimum they depend on rule of law but moral values as well. Clinton and his supporters have waged a successful war on the rule of law. They've gotten away with it because of our precipitous moral decline over the last several decades. What we accept today would have been seen as bizarre and lowdown yesteryear. Years ago kids might have used foul language but didn't use it in the presence of, or to, adults. Out of wedlock childbirth was a disgrace and bastardy wouldn't occasion a baby shower. High schools distributing condoms, giving pregnancy counseling and having daycare facilities would have been deemed lunacy. Popular daytime sleaze shows like "Jerry Springer", where guests openly discuss despicable acts, shows that shame are going the way of the dinosaur. We Americans accept the Clinton-Lewinsky affair as if it was an off stage version of "Jerry Springer" writ large.
Whether Congress follows its constitutional mandate, and removes Clinton from office if he's found guilty, is relatively minor in the whole scheme of things. The Clinton affair is merely the tip of an iceberg where we accept as routine the kind of moral decadence that would have horrified Americans of yesteryear. Who's ultimately to blame for it? It's us, America's sixty and over crowd. We've done wonders in giving our children all those material things our parents could not hope to give us. We've failed miserably in giving our children what our parents did give us: honor, duty, moral values and a sense of right and wrong. Because of that we can accept a president who is not only an immoral shameless person but has ruthlessly attacked the very foundations of a civilized society - the rule of law.
Walter E. Williams
November 23, 1998
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