Monica Lewinsky is reported to have testified before a grand jury that President Bill Clinton did have sexual relations with her.
Given that Clinton lied in 1992 about having extramarital sex with Gennifer Flowers, in order to get elected, who can be surprised that he lied about Monica?
What many find difficult to fathom is that Clinton could be so reckless as to risk his presidency for sex with Monica, especially after the Flowers and (Paula) Jones scandals. When the Lewinsky story exploded in January, New York Times columnist William Safire wrote: “[Clinton] should be presumed innocent not merely on high-minded judicial principle, but because it’s hard to conceive of this deft politician being so reckless ….” [Published in the Globe and Mail, Jan. 23., 1998]
But Safire is wrong. Clinton’s deftness as a politician explains his recklessness (and dishonesty).
Clinton rose to power not because he is a deft man of sound principles, but because he is a deft pragmatist — one who skillfully monitors and manipulates public opinion, and alters his political “principles” accordingly. Witness Clinton’s flip-flops on health care, defense, taxes, education, a balanced budget, campaign finance reform and much more.
Pragmatism, the philosophy dominating modern politics, advises eschewing principles in the name of achieving a desired result. The most famous pragmatist is Britain’s former Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, who abandoned established principles of justice and foreign policy to appease Hitler’s power lust by giving him Czechoslovakia — all in the name of achieving peace. The result was war. Witness Clinton’s appeasement of China’s brutal dictatorship.
Just as Clinton eschews principles in politics, he eschews moral principles in his personal life. But to abandon moral principles is to adopt a policy of “doing whatever I can get away with.”
If elections can be won by making promises one knows one can’t keep, or accepting campaign contributions from Chinese dictators in exchange for political favors, or lying about adulterous affairs, then do it.
How does one know if one will get away with lying or adultery? Ultimately, by feelings. Pragmatism sinks to: “Do I feel that I will get away with it?”
If one is driven by strong adulterous urges and gets away with satisfying them once, that builds “confidence” to try again. “Success” at fooling others breeds recklessness, and a perverted feeling of triumph over others. According to Gennifer Flowers, Clinton once asked her to have sex in a bathroom at the Arkansas’ governor’s mansion while his wife and 50 guests were outside on the lawn. (CNN — Larry King Live, Jan. 23, 1998.) Imagine the “triumphant” feeling of getting away with that!
Clinton’s “political deftness” is totally consistent with his recklessness and immorality.
Why does pragmatism now dominate American politics? Why has the White House gone from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton? The answer lies in the transformation that took place since America’s birth.
America was founded on the principle of individual rights — the right to life, liberty, private property and the pursuit of happiness. The government’s sole purpose was to protect these rights.
Today, individual rights are sacrificed to the demands of various pressure groups — unions, businessmen, farmers, lawyers, seniors, students, feminists, ethnic groups, environmentalists, anti-smokers, etc. As one group’s demands are granted at the expense of everyone else, other groups increase their lobbying efforts. The net result: all out pressure-group warfare as politicians get swamped by competing and contradictory demands.
How does a politician cope? Enter pragmatism. Forget upholding principles such as individual rights, for that merely attracts the wrath of those pressure groups wanting to violate others’ rights. The pragmatic way to “succeed” is to eschew individual rights, appease the pressure-group demands and hopelessly plead for compromise.
Even if a politician entered the arena of pressure-group warfare intent on preserving his integrity, he could not preserve it. He’d have to abandon principles to protect his constituency from being devoured by pressure groups.
Such an arena repels politicians with moral integrity. Who get attracted? Those lacking moral integrity — those pragmatic expedients who feel they can “succeed” without the guidance of moral principles. Not George Washington but Bill Clinton.
The sacrifice of individual rights to pressure-group demands leads to the proliferation of unprincipled and unethical politicians.
Unsurprisingly, Americans have grown deeply cynical about morality in politics. They no longer expect to get politicians of high moral stature, and complacently “tolerate” immorality in their president.
The Lewinsky scandal demonstrates the danger of this moral complacency. At the time the Lewinsky story exploded around the world, it disgraced America’s presidency, demoralized its citizens, and threatened to paralyze and impeach the world’s most powerful political leader — all at a time when he had to deal with a murderous dictator in Iraq. Since then Clinton had to deal with nuclear tests in India and Pakistan, dictators in China and much more.
Who will take an immoral president seriously when he appeals to a moral principle?
If Americans want to once again elect a president who is both moral and practical, a president they can trust and revere, a Washington or Jefferson, they must demand a return to the principles on which America was founded — individual rights.
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