Unification News for September 1998

Our National Contradiction

"I Take Full and Complete Responsibility. Letís Go to the Vineyard."

Thus cartoonist Jules Feiffer depicted the essence of Mr. Clintonís response to the long arm of the law. It reflected my sentiments well. The president admitted to the American public that he had done something wrong and then acted as if thatís all there is to it and we can now get back to the business of governing the nation.

Apparently the entire point of the independent counselís exercise was to get him to admit what he had done and to say that he is taking responsibility for it. But Mr. Clinton never outlined what exactly he intends to do in taking responsibility for it, other than heal his strained relations with his wife and daughter.

More important, in this instance, is that he heal his strained relations with the country. There are two dimensions to this. One, he has revealed himself to be an adulterer (to put it most simply). Second, he has admitted himself to be a liar. There are two of the Ten Commandments broken right there. And compliance with a third, that we should worship no gods other than the Lord, depends upon exactly whom Mr. Clinton is referring to when he says "this matter is between me, the two people I love most, my wife and our daughter, and our God." I mean, why doesnít he just say "God"? Why is it "our God," when "our" refers to his own family? Do they have a shrine to their god at the White House? Has Hillary Clinton been hanging out with Eleanor Roosevelt again?

The point is that the sanctions against adultery and lying have their root in God, the almighty, Old Testament God. If we substitute the god we create for the God who created us, then our real authority is opinion polls.

The opinion writers of the nationís newspapers reflected a somber and serious judgment upon the President the day after his grand jury testimony. Here are some excerpts, as published in The New York Times:

"íI misled people.í The President said. No, he didnít mislead people. He lied to them. By using the word Ďmisledí instead of the word Ďlied,í the President lied to the American people. Again." New York Post

"Öa President who shamed his wife and daughter and his party and the people of the United States." Helena Independent Record

"Clinton fell back on a legal point to defend his lies and placed the blame for his predicament elsewhere. That wonít endear him to anyone. The country Clinton leads deserves better than the superficial finger-pointing performance he delivered Monday night." Austin American-Statesman

"Clinton has dishonored the Presidency. He has diminished his stature as a leader. He has damaged the trust that unites the people who form his Administration. He has embarrassed the country he swore to protect and safeguard. He should be profoundly ashamed, and the shame should haunt him for the rest of his life." San Jose Mercury News

"It is almost beyond comprehension that Clinton is so lacking in self-discipline, so reckless, that he engaged in a sordid liaison with a youthful intern under the same roof with his own family, at a time he was under scrutiny for alleged sexual misconduct." The Des Moines Register

Vov Populi, Vox Dei Est

But if we go to the polls, we find a different story. Most people say that consensual sex between adults is not a crime. Then what are the American people so upset about? Apparently, we have a tough time pinning down exactly what is bothering us. Somehow, Bill Clinton embodies something that we are very attracted to and yet very repulsed by. He represents our national contradiction.

The August 22 edition of The New York Times published a poll in which 48% of Americans approved of Mr. Clinton, with 40% disapproving; some 50% approved of Mrs. Clinton with only 20% disapproving, and only 19% approved of Mr. Starr, with 45% disapproving, and only 5% approved of Ms. Lewinsky! And the August 25 USA Today poll revealed that if the election were held on that day, Clinton would have easily defeated Dole again.

Is this a nice nation or what?

Mrs. Clinton is, according to her spokesperson, "compassionate and steadfast" in her love for her husband. Thatís the first time Iíve heard the King James Bible quoted by a White House spinmeister. Opposing Mrs. Clinton, Ms. Lewinsky is a "kiss and tell" temptress, it looks like, playing on our good-natured Presidentís vulnerability. Like Delilah, she has cut Mr. Clintonís locks and shorn him of his power. Obviously, she is a tool of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

Mr. Starr, by this reading, is a Janvier, obsessed with bringing ruin upon a man with a good heart. Clinton, after all, is doing his best to see that his private sin is not exploited by the vast right-wing conspiracy to obstruct him from carrying out the hard work of governing the country, a job he does so well.

We see it now! The problem is not that Mr. Clinton is obstructing justice, but that Mr. Starr is obstructing the governance of the country! Mr. Clinton is only doing his duty to prevent this picky-picky hymn-singer from shutting down the Executive office. And meanwhile, back at the ranch, Hillary is compassionate and steadfast.

What we have here is an example of the "letís just be nice to each other" syndrome (identified in the late 1970s by then graduate student Frank Kaufmann). Democracies love nice people. They elect nice people. In fact, being nice is more important than being righteous. For most Americans, those who are not part of the vast right-wing conspiracy, being nice in fact is the culmination of being righteous. Being nice is the very definition of righteousness.

As Luther said, God counted Abrahamís faith as righteousness (Romans 4:3-5). Well, the American people seem to count Bill Clintonís niceness as righteousness.

Of course, niceness does not apply to our dealings with the Islamic world. Muslims see American niceness as a symptom of decadence, which makes them just a little worse than the vast right-wing conspiracy. The Islamic world sees righteousness in more traditional terms-order, justice, punishment of evil, reward of the good, sexual morality. They have not entered into the modern deconstruction of good and evil, and do not appreciate our morally profound, deeply edifying television programs.

Hence, in dealing with the Muslim world, itís no more Mr. Nice Guy. There is no effort made to comprehend the driving force of the Islamic world, which sees itself as a clear option over-against the Christian or post-Christian west.

Family Values Are Not Nice

Principles sometimes require that we not be "nice." A nice-guy finally has no principles, in a fallen world. In the ideal world, we can be nice and succeed, but in the fallen world, nice guys finish last. Nice guys who finish first are only pretending to be nice. I suspect this is the case for Mr. Clinton.

Consider Abraham Lincoln. He was criticized terribly for keeping the union at war over principles-anti-slavery and national unity. He could not, by his principles, be a nice guy, seeking to please everyone.

Consider the Beatles. Not to compare them with Abraham Lincoln, but John Lennon stated that the Beatles became number one because they were the biggest bastards. Look what they did to their poor workday drummer Pete Best.

This also applies to "family values." General opinion is that family values are "nice." "What a nice family you have." Hence, the Clintons are a nice family, even with Mr. C. having affairs.

But there are family values that override "niceness." Any parent knows that we cannot be "nice" to our children when they want to violate standards. Any parents who has not been judged mean and oppressive by their children at some point probably is lacking the power to discipline.

This point was well known to Americans of an earlier generation. Our ancestors were aware of the alternative to unmitigated niceness: discipline. Once upon a time, families were three generations, and marriages entailed tying two entire families together. There were strict formal codes for spouses in relation to their in-laws, in particular for a woman entering her husbandís family. Filial piety was a strict code. In played strongly upon a new bride in relation to her husbandís parents.

The ethic of filial piety has all-but disappeared from todayís society. It is practiced, thank God, but to practice it is to swim against the cultural tide. Filial piety means that the child, whether ten years old or sixty years old, puts the parentsí interests above their own. The child sacrifices for the parents. This might not be a very nice situation for the child. They may feel that they are giving up their dreams. And yet the 10 commandments tell us to honor our father and mother, just after honoring God. God nowhere commands, "Thou shalt live thy own dream."

The old adage, spare the rod and spoil the child, carries in it wisdom. Parents often want to be nothing but nice to their children, to be their childrenís peers. This creates problems for the children, and eventually for the entire culture. I would like to see Mr. Clinton take a stand for discipline, even if it is not very nice.

Mr. Clinton, I would rather have you honest than nice. If your wife and daughter are the people you love most, then please act that way. If you think the United States should be run as you ran Arkansas, then come out and say it, and let us vote on it. Before you tell Mr. Yelstin to drink the bitter medicine of fiscal responsibility in Russia, please drink the bitter medicine of moral responsibility here. Sooner or later, America and Russian will have to pay the piper, and itís not going to be nice, because we all have something not-so-nice to amend for. As Alexander Pope wrote, "When Adam delved and Eve span, who then was the gentleman?"

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