JWR Jeff JacobyBen WattenbergTony Snow
Mona CharenDr. Laura
Linda Chavez

Paul Greenberg Larry ElderJonathan S. Tobin
Thomas SowellMUGGERWalter Williams
Don FederCal Thomas
Political Cartoons
Left, Right & Center

Click on banner ad to support JWR

Jewish World Review /Feb. 25, 1999 / 8 Adar, 5759

Tony Snow

Tony Snow The birth of political wisdom

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) THERE IS A GROWING CONVICTION among a band of conservatives that American society has embarked upon a speedy expedition to hell. Paul Weyrich expressed the prevailing gloom last week when, sizing up the president’s acquittal in the Lewinsky case, he declared that left-wingers had conquered right-wingers in the culture wars, and as far as he was concerned, the American people deserved whatever grim fate might await them.

He wasn’t alone in his bitterness. One very senior player in the impeachment drama confided to me that he was disturbed less by the verdict than by the fact that he had begun to question the wisdom and decency of the American people. If the polls were right, he said, average folks had given thumbs up to the seedy romance of two cigar aficionados.

To hear many of my brethren tell it, the president’s latest escape is to the Constitution and the Ten Commandments what the Alamo was to Davie Crockett. But what they have experienced is not the death of decency so much as the birth of political wisdom.

Politics is ill-suited for the business of distributing compassion or virtue. Unlike men and women of the cloth, who merely can extol the wonders of righteousness, lawmakers can decide which transgressions to punish, and how. Religion relies on persuasion; government on coercion. Human nature being what it is, people who possess the power to punish eventually will abuse it.

To take some recent examples, Attorney General Janet Reno -- the woman who ordered troops and tanks into Waco -- now is considering the possibility of punishing Kenneth Starr for interrogating Monica Lewinsky in a less-than-chivalrous manner. Meanwhile, one of her charges, Civil Rights Division chief Bill Lann Lee, wants to prosecute a California high school because he finds the names of its athletic teams -- the warriors and the squaws -- offensive.

People rightly fear anybody who aspires to use government as an instrument of universal salvation. Philosopher/scientist Karl Popper wrote a generation ago that "our greatest troubles spring from something that is as admirable as it is dangerous -- our impatience to better the lot of our fellows."

As much as Republicans hoped to cast the president’s trial as a moral drama, it unfolded as a test of political wills. The White House and disciplined Democrats maintained that Kenneth Starr was a partisan Peeping Tom and that the scandal was "just about sex."

This profoundly silly argument prevailed, because in response, Republicans said ... virtually nothing. Party elders periodically dispatched e-mails arguing that the scandal was not about sex (!) but about grave matters of law -- perjury, obstruction of justice and the like.

Of course, the entire controversy was indeed about sex. The perjury was about sex. The obstruction was about sex. And, we’re all beginning to suspect, this presidency is primarily about sex and only tangentially about executing the oath of office.

Embedded in the pro-Clinton case was the insinuation that trust doesn’t matter, and that assumption might have made interesting fodder for a political set-to. But Democrats threw Republicans off-balance by making sport of the GOP’s insecurities. They peppered conservatives with choice epithets -- partisan, obsessed, extreme -- and each unrefuted calumny quickly attained the status of revealed truth.

Weyrich et al. lost the impeachment battle because they mistook a political scrum for a holy war. Republicans chose to plod down the path of self-righteousness. They surrendered their majority powers in the name of an illusory bipartisanship. House members primly decided not to publicize testimony given by Juanita Broddrick -- perhaps because it was shaky and questionable. Senate Republicans daintily decided to forego hearing from witnesses.

As the GOP fretted about History, the White House conducted a daily communications conference call that established messages and strategies of the day. (Hence, the party argued against hearing from witnesses early in the House proceedings, then rejected calls for testimony during the trial because the House hadn’t called witnesses.) Republicans, in contrast, never held a single meeting involving party officials and congressional leaders.

Democrats prevailed because they fought as a unit and stayed together.

Their victory was political, and so was its fruit. They got a bump in the polls. But they did not lay bare a yawning moral chasm in America. To the contrary, the president’s acquittal cleared the way for the ultimate consideration of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Public apathy about the impeachment trial was an expression of marvelous common sense. Why should anybody have taken an unserious proceeding seriously? Now, as tempers cool and facts emerge, people can, in their leisure, make up their minds. Contrary to a few nabobs of negativism, such deliberation is far less likely to send us to hell than to pull us back.

Think of it this way: To whom would you entrust our nation's moral inheritance, Congress -- or your family?


02/22/99: Children of optimism
02/18/99: Wake up, Republicans!
02/16/99: Why we feel so good
02/11/99: What exactly does George W. stand for?
02/08/99: Run, GOPers, run?
02/04/99: The languid sigh of waves lapping ashore
02/01/99: Verbal vortex
01/28/99: To be a ‘sell-out’ or an unelectable pol --- that is the question
01/25/99: The apogee of a trend
01/21/99:What my 3-year-old taught me
01/17/99:Don't be fooled, folks
01/14/99: Must a pol be ‘baaaad’ in order to get elected?
01/12/99: Jumpin’ Jack (Kemp)
01/08/99 : Hot air in the Windy City

©1999, Creators Syndicate