New York Post
2/15/99 DAVID GELERNTER
WORDS FOR AMORAL AMERICA
By DAVID GELERNTER
OUR language shows the character of our thinking, like a
transmitting disturbances below.
A Democratic senator announced recently that he ''didn't
some of the president's behavior (although naturally he was
conviction on the impeachment charges). Now you can ''disagree''
proposition, but not an action. It makes no sense to say
''I agreed with
the president at first, when he walked his dog; when he fell
stairs, I disagreed with that.''
But of course it's easier to ''disagree'' with a man than
him. Disagreement is morally neutral. The judge doesn't tell
defendant ''The jury has found you guilty, and I disagree
crimes. I therefore sentence you to ... '' The priest doesn't
penitent in the confessional ''I disagree with your sins,
accordingly ... '' At least I don't think he does.
This senator was talking the new language of American amorality.
a good spokesman for a society that is in steady retreat
from the idea
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) laid it on the line in an interview
already passing into legend and will one day be recounted
books. He explained that, yes, the president was guilty of
crimes - but he should not be (or at any rate could not be)
and removed because he is popular and the economy is strong.
I'm sure many other senators think the same thing but don't
courage to admit it. Henceforth any defendant should be allowed
''not guilty by reason of popularity,'' and criminal lawyers
to study up on the Soaring Dow defense.
When the murderer O.J. Simpson was acquitted and set free,
Americans assumed that the verdict was a fantastic anomaly.
Americans assumed also that it was a piece of ugly, vicious
the part of a black jury. Today they owe the Simpson jury
an apology, of
sorts. No less an authority than the U.S. Senate has endorsed
that if the facts say ''guilty!'' you are duty-bound to convict
assuming you feel up to it. Otherwise, never mind.
The Simpson jury evidently reasoned: ''It doesn't matter
man is innocent or guilty; we don't want to convict him.
regard him as a hero. We hate his accusers. And we'd be unpopular
our neighbors if we voted to bring him down.'' Many congressional
Democrats seem to feel the same way about the president.
Of course there is a large moral difference between Clinton's
Simpson's. I assume that if the president's crimes had been
Simpsonian, even Sen. Byrd would have favored conviction.
But I'm not
sure where the switch-over would take place. Once you are
commit obstruction of justice and perjury, what other crimes
can you get
away with? There's a thought to cheer a president on a rainy
What have we learned? Where does impeachment leave us? It
(speaking for southern New England) on a pale day threatening
a pair of solemn mallards cruising a forest pond.
I visited the pond a few days ago with my boys, and we watched
contentedly for a long time as nothing happened. The outcome
impeachment trial merely reflects (like the pond reflecting
branches) the nation's spiritual emptiness. The president
having no character of his own, reflects the nation's mood
mirror. (He is famous for reading an audience and adjusting
accordingly.) He has made the White House small, mean and
eventually it will recover - when the nation does.
In the meantime, there is this pond reminding us of the once
dignity of the United States of America, and preserving a
small piece of
it. Now is a good time for ducks and quiet.
A NEWS story over the weekend made such a strange assertion,
I had to
read it three times to make sure I had understood it. Ultimately
good indication of our state of mind. The National Archives
Washington has determined that the Declaration of Independence,
Constitution and the Bill of Rights (the actual parchment
need new cases; otherwise they might suffer long-term damage.
enough. Musing on the Founding Fathers and the Declaration,
the New York
Times said this: ''Surely few thought that the text they
survive for more than two centuries.''
Why should they have doubted that their parchment text ''would
for more than two centuries''? Many medieval manuscripts
and they were all on hand in 1776 - housed mainly in Europe;
Founding Fathers were worldly, cultivated men.
I can only guess that this news story projects onto 1776
of today's cultural leaders. Most old parchment texts are
documents, but editors and reporters rarely think about religion,
medieval manuscripts - and they assume that the Founding
approached life on the same basis.
Today's cultural leaders rarely take words seriously, or
carefully, or expect them to last - and they can barely imagine
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