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Jewish World Review Sept. 17, 1999/7 Tishrei, 5760

Tony Snow

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Not even a hint of shame -- THE CLINTON PRESIDENCY, that seven-year orgy of cupidity and exhibitionism, has become such a bore that Americans are starting to complain en masse about "Clinton fatigue."

We wish he would disappear, but he won't. We pray he will mend his ways, but he can't. We have waited in vain for a change, and now our moral antibodies are striking back. There is general agreement that The Man from Hope lacks something we consider essential in ourselves and our country -- a conscience -- and that his disability is not a lovable foible, but a menace.

Review the record. The president acts as if a 60 percent approval rating trumps the Ten Commandments and victory at the polls expiates private misbehavior. No sooner did he dodge conviction in Congress, for example, than he boasted to Dan Rather that by saving his presidency, he defended the Constitution.

The fellow obviously doesn't grasp the difference between preserving the majesty of his office and covering the expanse of his rump. He seems to believe, like a backwoods Napoleon, that "le presidency, c'est moi."

In that vein, Clinton and his lawyers have invoked executive privilege to dodge responsibility for L'Affair Lewinsky, Whitewater, the China scandals and more. His Justice (sic) Department has spent more time prosecuting Kenneth Starr than tracking down enemies of the state. This week, that very Justice (sic, again) Department relocated a troublesome Waco prosecutor and told FBI agents to stonewall Congress about Clinton's decision to free 11 terrorists belonging to the Puerto Rican nationalist group FALN.

No amount of bad press seems to discourage the chief executive's desire to weave a skein of scandal. In recent weeks, we have learned of a Waco cover-up, the FALN debacle and a home-purchase deal that would leave a Tammany hack agog.

The president and first lady accepted a $1.35 million gift from Terry McAuliffe, the affable, nonpareil Democratic fund-raiser. McAuliffe figures in at least two ongoing Clinton administration probes -- an upcoming trial of Teamsters officials on charges of violating federal election laws and a Labor Department investigation of a never-repaid $4 million "loan" from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to a real-estate partnership in which McAuliffe was a principal.

One looks for even a hint of shame from the first couple -- even an acknowledgment of the conflicts involved in the deal -- but one gets defiant self-righteousness instead. Clinton has said, in effect, "Catch me if you can!" -- and rubbed our noses in our own willingness to forgive.

We may be gullible as a people, but we're beginning to figure it all out. The president's most memorable lines are lies and his most memorable traits are weaknesses. And he doesn't care.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a novelist who wrote a book once admired by undergraduates, recently christened a Latin American literary magazine by penning an essay about Clinton. He opened by recounting a conversation in which the president told him, "My only enemy is right-wing religious fundamentalism."

The saddened belletrist wrote, "Does it seem right that this exceptional human being should be prevented from fulfilling his historical destiny simply because he was unable to find a private place to make love?" Then, in a perhaps unwitting allusion to Monica, he likened the Clinton-Lewinsky lubricities to Jonah's being swallowed by a whale.

But Marquez doesn't get it. Monica is Clinton's destiny. Nobody denies the president's breathtaking political and administrative talents. We find him a boor not because of his policies, but because he has declared war on our very souls.

Let me explain. A quick canvass of major world religions reveals a shared body of commandments: Don't murder, maim, lie, cheat, steal, commit adultery, mislead, venerate false gods, defile the temple and the like. C. S. Lewis called these dicta "the Tao" and argued they are objectively true -- not fanciful, fabricated or superstitious, but true.

He is right. The Tao makes it possible for tribes to evolve into civilizations -- for cooperation to replace force as an organizing principle. It permits people to flourish as creative and spiritual beings, to think of causes and individuals other than themselves. It fosters innovation in everything from physics to philanthropy.

When public figures lay siege to this moral foundation, they commit a brand of spiritual vandalism that's more subversive than mere treason. They send the message that there is no right and wrong -- only winners and losers -- and that the civilized way is for suckers.

Fortunately, we know better. We know the Tao -- which is why we don't hate Clinton (that malady would be called Clinton Rage), but just wish he would go away.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate