The Clinton legacy

Jewish World Review
2/17/98 Cal Thomas

OF ALL THE RIVERS OF LIES that have flowed from the Clinton administration, none will have a greater impact than the stream of bogus assertions that public and private morals are separate.

A U.S. News and World Report poll taken immediate after the President's acquittal shows the public isn't buying the administration's line -- or never did.

According to the poll, 56 percent of the public believes Bill Clinton is the least moral of all our modern presidents, including Richard Nixon. Sixty-four percent believe the Clinton sex scandal and the President's subsequent impeachment will have a negative effect on the country's moral fiber. Sixty-one percent think it will cause children to have less respect for the country and the presidency. Forty-eight percent directly blame Clinton for the controversy, while just 20 percent blame Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr.

Until now, none of this has been reflected in the big media or by politicians for whom "compartmentalization'' was the only creed.

A new book --" The American Leadership Tradition: Moral Vision from Washington to Clinton -- arrived in my mailbox the day of the President's acquittal. It gives a historical overview of the connection between private and public morals. Its author is University of Texas professor Marvin N. Olasky, last seen in these parts with his "The Tragedy of American Compassion,'' which was used by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and a number of Republican governors to reform welfare laws.

Olasky shoots holes in Clinton's compartmentalization theory by revealing how the morals by which 10 past presidents and two other leaders lived affected their public policies. And, yes, that includes links between lying about adultery and lying about other matters.

In his introduction, Olasky lets us in on what he is up to by quoting Theodore Roosevelt, who said in a 1912 address to the American Historical Association: "The greatest historian should also be a great moralist. It is no proof of impartiality to treat wickedness and goodness on the same level.''

Beginning at the founding of our republic, Olasky discovered this gem from George Washington: "Purity of morals (is) the only sure foundation of public happiness in any country.'' While Washington remained faithful to his wife, Martha, despite some temptations, many of the leaders of the British army were his direct moral opposites.

Sir George Rodney was supposed to provide naval support for Gen. Charles Cornwallis in 1781. Olasky says Rodney was an adulterer, a gambler and debtor. Instead of faithfully executing his assigned duties, he concentrated on building his own fortune and fornicated his way through the West Indies. Cornwallis received his own job due to favoritism. Such leadership, writes Olasky, influenced British soldiers who "fought when they could not avoid it, but otherwise dedicated themselves to gambling, drinking, and cavorting with camp prostitutes.'' When Cornwallis surrendered to American and French forces at Yorktown on October 19, 1781, it was clear the British had lost the will to win and they "gave in as soon as they could honorably do so.''

Washington, on the other hand, was so admired and respected by his men that they were willing to freeze to death at Valley Forge in pursuit of an ideal: independence.

The revered Thomas Jefferson is exposed by Olasky as a "two-face'' who had to hide not only his behavior with women, but also his intense hatred of God and the Bible for fear that if such news became public, his political career would be doomed. Jefferson's moral obtuseness lead him to view African slaves -- whom he said once free "cannot live in the same government'' -- as subhuman. "Native habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them.'' In other words, notes Olasky, "Blacks were one day to be free -- and the next day deported.'' There is much more linking Jefferson's private morals and beliefs to bad public policies.

President Clinton is properly left until last. Olasky writes of Clinton's frequent meetings with clergy advisers and of their frustration in trying to get him to admit that he did anything wrong. He quotes two of the clergymen as saying Clinton always blamed Republicans and never saw himself as anything but a good man. "After three years of meetings,'' writes Olasky, "one regular minister to the president merely shook his head when asked if progress was being made in the central issue of having the president stop blaming others and start accepting responsibility himself.''

Was Clinton's latest "confession'' any more real than the others? Given his life's pattern, the odds are that he is still lying and that he will continue to lie about his private morals and about his public policies.