Unification News for

February 1998


The Demons of Democracy

Unification Views
Tyler Hendricks

One day, everything was peaceful. The next day, the papers are covered with massive headlines; television and radio is running amok. It was the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. It was as if a natural disaster had hit. In fact, one English commentator writing in the Wall Street Journal did comment that our president’s pants should be declared a national disaster area.

The allegation stretched the national shock envelope a bit further. It seems that there was an affair in the oval office, and official advice to lie about it. This is it, we think. Clinton’s had it; the toughest teflon can’t protect against this dirt. We await a forthright statement from the White House, as if we expect Mr. and Mrs. Clinton to share our dismay, our sense of disgrace.

Then we witness the demons of democracy set in. We hear the careful denials–as one columnist put it, the "lawyerly responses." "No, I didn’t have a twelve year affair" (it was eleven and a half years). The accused finds no need to comment, other than "Let the whole story come out."

Okay, fair enough, we think, as all the president’s men turn the spotlight around. "What did she really say? When did she say it? to whom? why did she say it? What was that again? What’s in it for her? Hey, we’ve got a country to run here; do we really want to waste our time on all these rumors? We’ll cooperate; everyone is cooperating with what these kooks are coming up with. We’ll give them their day in court. Due process. We feel just as terrible about this as anyone. See you in six months. Next!"

The Scarlet A

In my humble opinion, what gave the Lewinsky story steam was one simple word: Adultery. Our initial response was guided by the moral sense, not by reason, not by the details. The very fact that a credible young woman had revealed an extensive story about her adultery with the President turned our collective stomach. It pricked our collective conscience. Adultery. Our President. We once looked up to that office, and to the individual who occupied it. His job, at the least, was to keep the office clean. Therefore, even a serious allegation of adultery should bring on a resignation. At least he could retire from active duty until everything is cleared up, right? Wrong.

Bill and Hillary Clinton and the culture they represent know better. They know that the accusation of adultery does not stick. They know that if they don’t blink, we won’t want to be like those who judged Hester Prynne. Hollywood has presented the proper attitude about the big scarlet A. The spacious skies quickly cloud over; the light of the world does not stay focused on adultery. Why? Because we are honest in the 1990s. We cannot deny that we all have a weakness for it. The national arm’s not strong enough to cast that heavy stone.

A substantial number of Americans have committed adultery, with no great harm done. Almost everyone entertains adulterous thoughts occasionally, like… everyday. The thought occurs; the eyes stray; no one can control it. It is amazing how adultery turns from repulsive to banal. Analysis and repetition dull the moral sense; we tire of the endless chase for Brer Clinton. Let him go; it’s not worth it. Let him govern the country; somebody has to do it.

Let’s Change the Subject

We are glad to allow ourselves to be distracted from the real question: is adultery a crime? Is adultery right or wrong? We are soft on this; it is an unpleasant subject. Why? because we personally cannot solve it. Some of our best friends are adulterers. We almost cheered when Rose committed what amounted to adultery in Titanic. Sometimes, we let ourselves think, love is bigger than marriage.

So we are relieved if someone changes the subject by bringing up all the subsidiary questions. We blur the act of adultery into a hundred editorials and a thousand personal profiles. Opinions range from the sublime to the ridiculous. We enter upon the third and fourth generation of opinions about opinions, spin applied to spin. Somewhere between the 300 font headlines and the articles that read like legal briefs, we lose track of that which outraged us at the outset. Our moral sense withdraws into that still, small voice. Too still, too small.

In the process, we fail to note what is really happening. There once was a marriage between the American people and our Presidency, sealed by the oath of office. The man pledged to be faithful to the ideals for which we stand. To those who believe in these ideals, the Clintons represent a blatant violation. To those who, with the Clintons, have transcended (to put it kindly) these ideals, there is nothing to violate. In either case, the Clintons are like a loose woman with which our nation is having an affair.

A Jules Feiffer cartoon in the New York Times said it well. A small boy is watching the television news. Out of the boob tube comes incessant reference to sex and the president. "Sex–the President. Sex, sex–the President. More sex, more sex, more and more sex–the President." Mom enters the room, and picks up her son. He asks her, "Mom, what’s a president?"

Instant President

Even Mr. Feiffer, a voice of the left, is moved by this president’s disregard for the family. Clinton has a showcase family, his well-publicized daughter in college now. Vernon Jordan was quoted, early on in the scandal, saying how he had known the Clintons since the early days, and how he visited their home one morning after Clinton had lost the Arkansas gubernatorial race. And Mr. Jordan described baby Chelsea climbing on his lap, and Hillary cooking instant grits. Ignoring for a moment the question of, what the heck are instant grits, it must have been a lovely morning. "My, my, Miss Hillary, but these instant grits taste great!"

Now, I spent several years in the south, and I had lots of grits. But instant grits? It must be something like instant mashed potatoes. Yuchh. And who would remember, twenty years later, how they were at someone’s house, and the wife was there making instant mashed potatoes? It’s almost as if there’s an instant Chelsea climbing on his knees. Somehow, the Clintons’ actions undermine the believability of their family life. It’s something like an instant family.

Sooner or later, those who undermine marriage and family will fall. Consider an event as devastating as the American Civil War. President Lincoln, who was in a position to know such things, stated, when he met Harriet Beecher Stowe, "So this is the little lady who started this big war." What was it that Stowe had done? She had written a book called Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Lincoln was stating that her book had, beyond all the political, economic, religious and social action, ignited the north to fight.

Don’t Mess with Families

What was it about that book? In my humble opinion, it was that the book depicted, in heart-wrenching ways, how slavery breaks up families. It separated husbands from their wives, children from their parents. Of course, the book conveyed more than that, but this was the core emotional pull. It put slavery in the human perspective, its impact on the family.

We cannot but be impressed with Bill Clinton’s agility. He has something that I observed in Mick Jagger when I saw the Rolling Stones in 1966. It struck me that Jagger’s major quality was not singing talent or dancing talent. The power of him as a performer was nothing other than his absolute love for being in the spotlight, and his ability to include the audience in his ego-trip. We enjoyed watching him enjoy being a star.

Likewise, Bill Clinton, in my mind, has demonstrated no real ability to push our nation forward, to craft policy, to elucidate issues, to inspire courage. The power of Bill Clinton as a president is that he loves being in the spotlight. And he is able to include us, or some version of us, in his spotlight, with him in the center. His greatest strength is that he looks like what we want our president to look like: tall, handsome, friendly, honest, open and sincere; a good guy.

He lacks any sense of gravitas, of seriousness. Even though he says he’s working hard, somehow we don’t believe him, and we don’t mind. We’re with him; life happens after hours, at the local pub, the softball field, the barbecue. Pull out the sax, Bill, even though you can’t play worth a dime, it’s great to act like a rock star for a night, ain’t it? Let the policy folks take care of business; they’ve got their computers, they’re doing fine. He has his weaknesses, so do we all, and we can identify with his. This scandal may not be that bad, after all.

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