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Moving On By: David Horowitz
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, March 15, 1999


IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE SENATE TRIAL of the President, the nation has been struggling to "move on," to put the scandal and the partisan stand-off over the impeachment process behind it and to get on with the political business at hand. Both left and right have stakes in moving forward, particularly as a new election cycle approaches. With a few exceptions, the consensus on both sides reflects this desire. Nonetheless, closure is not a foregone conclusion.

One distraction has been the testimony of Juanita Broaddrick, previously known as Jane Doe #5, whom the President allegedly raped in an Arkansas hotel room twenty years ago. Another is Monica's TV appearance and the publication of her gossipy book. Both have poured fuel on old fires.

Some suicidal Republicans, Bill Kristol most prominent among them, have called for new congressional investigations into the Broaddrick charges. In a Weekly Standard cover editorial that asks "Can't we just move on?" Kristol throws down this regrettable gauntlet: "The only honorable answer to the question is no." Democrats, on the other hand, have responded to the new charges with an equally familiar posture—agnostic attitudes toward the allegations themselves coupled with pleas to bury the whole mess, so that once again they appear, as a group, as partisan defenders of the reprobate himself.

The real problem underlying this stasis is that none of the major players really wants to examine the events of this deeply troubling year in a way where they would have to admit where they went wrong.

Mercifully, there is one group that has actually begun to do just that and, (as unlikely to Salon readers as it may be), it is the Christian Right. In a reaction triggered by the impeachment failure, several leaders of the Christian political community have begun to discuss whether religious conservatives should now withdraw from the political process altogether. In a stunning confession of misjudgment, Paul Weyrich—the man who gave the Moral Majority its name—has announced that his movement's 25 year-long political effort has been based on an assumption that he now realizes was an error. This is the assumption that the majority of the American people share his moral outlook. Weyrich puts it this way: "If there really were a moral majority out there, Bill Clinton would have been driven out of office months ago."

This is certainly correct, and refreshing. (Would that more politicians had the courage to admit publicly they were wrong!) Weyrich's view of his political failure and of America's unreceptive attitude towards his moral viewpoint is quite stark. "We got our people elected. But that did not result in the adoption of our agenda. The reason, I think, is that politics itself has failed. And politics has failed because of the collapse of the culture. The culture we are living in becomes an ever-wider sewer. In truth, I think we are caught up in a cultural collapse of historic proportions, a collapse so great that it simply overwhelms politics."

Weyrich is certainly wrong about America. In the popular culture, it's the year of romance (Shakespeare in Love) and duty, honor, country (Saving Private Ryan). As for the civic culture, every social indicator Bill Bennett and other conservatives have used to describe its downward arc through the era of liberal irresponsibility is currently headed in the right direction . Crime rates, teenage pregnancies, and out-of-wedlock births are on the decline. Combine that with full employment and it would be more appropriate to say that things haven't been better for a long time. Only someone attached to an irrecoverable past, and therefore hostile to change as such, could react so negatively towards a culture that is doing all right by any reasonable measure.

But Weyrich is certainly correct about religious conservatism like his. In fact he is right about religious politics across the board. One of the most enduring negative consequences of the Sixties "revolution" was the injection of chiliastic ambitions into the normal political culture. The utopian idea of a "liberation" that would encompass both the personal and the social has roots not only in Karl Marx and the Paris Commune, but in Martin Luther and the Puritan settlement. "The personal is political," a Sixties slogan that originated with the feminist left, could just as well describe the moral aspirations of the Christian Right. Moreover, it could easily stand as a summary statement of the attitudes that created the impeachment debacle.

"The great debates in American politics," according to Christian candidate Gary Bauer "end up being essentially moral debates." In his current stump speech, Bauer likes to compare the anti-abortion crusade to Abraham Lincoln and the anti-slavery struggle. It is, he cries, "the soul of the Republican Party." In fact the abortion issue is not the soul of the Republican Party but rather its most divisive issue. In comparing abortion to slavery, moreover, Bauer conveniently overlooks the fact that the slavery issue was too morally divisive to be resolved by the political process. It took a bloody civil war to do that. If civil war is what Gary Bauer wants, he should be prepared to say so and to recognize his brotherhood with other radicals of the past, including the Sixties activists who used that identical analogy to identify (and legitimize) their war with America. This is not the voice of responsible politics, and has no place in a pluralistic polity, let alone a party that aspires to be "conservative."

Everyone who subscribes to the idea of American pluralism thereby accepts the idea that there are limits to what politics can accomplish, and to what is proper advocacy in a democratic society. Democracies work through coalitions, achieved through compromises that are both moral and political. Compromise is the condition of civil stability and peace. To articulate what is, in effect, the political equivalent of a call for civil war in a democracy like ours is nihilistic and destructive. The fundamental premise of pluralism is that morally incompatible communities agree to live with each other and respect their differences, and work together through political compromise.

That is why the new sober turn in religious conservatism is to be welcomed. The religious right has contributed greatly to the renewed public sense of responsibility and accountability in America over the last few decades (a fact the secular culture seems incapable of acknowledging). But now several of its leaders are beginning to acknowledge that the movement may be approaching the limits of what it can hope, politically, to achieve.

Paul Weyrich concedes that the majority of Americans do not share his values and, unlike Bauer, accepts that the political agendas of a democracy are necessarily circumscribed by the shared values of its constituencies. Those who are unhappy with those values must turn to avenues other than politics for the answers they seek. Moral goals can only be achieved by persuading a majority that they are right. And politics, which is an arena of moral compromise, does not provide the best means for accomplishing that task.

A new book by two former leaders of the Moral Majority makes the point clearly: "Those who are looking in whole or in part to the Government to correct the problems of America are looking in the wrong place." As one of the authors explained to a reporter for the New York Times, "moral transformation will come one person at a time, one family at a time, one street at a time, one community at a time. It will not come from the Government." This is exactly right, and political moralists on both sides of the aisle (including the sin-taxers in the White House who want to save citizens from their bad habits) would do well to heed it. The failure to heed it is what led to the political fiasco of the impeachment process.

Now that the evidence is in, few people would deny that President Clinton is morally corrupt and that his corruption has had serious consequences for his office and for the general welfare of the American people. What could have been done to deal with this problem and how was it botched? These are critical questions because it is the manner in which that the corruption of the presidency was dealt with on all sides that lies at the heart of the present impasse.

In the first place it is important to recognize the origins of the problem in the President's own response to the exposure of his behavior. Once this happened, the President should have acknowledged that he had compromised his office and his own ability to fulfill his responsibilities. Then he should have resigned. He should have resigned not because he was morally impure or exceptionally dishonest (although he was both), but because of the damage that would inevitably ensue to the nation and his party if he decided to stay. (That was, after all, why Nixon stepped down, when he did, instead of taking the fight to the bitter end.) Unfortunately, neither his responsibility to party or country seems to have mattered to Clinton, who often seems to exhibit certain classic sociopathic traits.

Absent a presidential conscience, the leaders of the Democratic Party should have stepped into the vacuum and attempted to persuade Clinton to leave. Once again, there is a parallel with Nixon. It was Barry Goldwater and Howard Baker who finally informed Nixon it was time to leave. Had Democrats followed their example and joined the chorus of 150 American newspapers who had called on Clinton to resign, Clinton's departure would have been almost inevitable. Had he still refused to resign, he then would have been impeached and removed by a truly bipartisan vote.

That didn't happen, however. Instead Democrats went into a defensive mode in which they lost all connection to any discernible principle other than partisan political interest. (It is only one of the many bizarre aspects of these events that while they marched in a remarkable lockstep, Democrats were able to pin the "partisan" label on their Republican opponents.)

Given the resistance of the President and his party to an appropriate remedy, the President's prosecutors and political opponents responded with a series of miscues that greatly compounded the already existing crisis.

Special Prosecutor Ken Starr, to pick the most important offender, should never have entered the murky waters of the Paula Jones case in an attempt to make his own against the President. The sexual-harassment law that allows prosecutors to probe the intimate personal histories of defendants is a brainchild of the moralists of the left. In particular, it is the work of the same feminists these events have discredited by slamming them up against a human complexity that remains forever out of reach of their ideological catch-phrases. The bottomless probing into the emotional quicksand of human relationships is the very stuff of "sexual McCarthyism." It is a pursuit that conservatives above all should find both dangerous and abhorrent.

It is true that, as Republicans claimed, the President lied under oath. But it is also true, as the Democrats maintained, that the lies were about sex and that the law, as the saying goes, is sometimes an ass. Particularly a law devised by radical feminists to ensnare demonized males. What Clinton's lies revealed about his lack of character is one thing. Whether the crime he was shown to have committed actually merited his removal is quite another. This is question is now moot, because the House Republicans failed to convince the American public that it was.

The impeachment process is a political process, not a legal or moral exercise. For all their political courage and for all their concern for constitutional principle, the House Republicans and the Republican Party failed in the only political task that really mattered: to persuade the American public that the President should be removed. Therefore, the appropriate course for them was to concede the terrain, as Paul Weyrich has done: to admit defeat. They could have done this after the November elections sent a strong message as to where the American people stood. They did not believe their president; they were pretty well convinced he had committed a crime; they did not want him removed. Instead Republicans pushed the process where it could not go and inevitably came up short-handed. This effort won them respect from the rank and file convinced that the President should be impeached, and gratified to see their party stand up for principle. But it also wasted precious political capital and precious months of political time.

Now that the impeachment process is over, there are some conservatives who do not want to move on and who are calling for renewed investigations into the Broaddrick allegations. But if the last year has taught us anything, these calls and allegations should be ignored. Disturbing though the claims of Mrs. Broaddrick may be, they are irrelevant to the political process and should be disregarded by those who have a responsibility to govern. The reason is simple. No one will ever know what happened between Mrs. Broaddrick and Bill Clinton in that hotel room, and no one can assess how it affects the President's conduct of his political office now.

Whatever happened to Juanita Broaddrick happened twenty years ago. It was not reported then and she herself has lied about it since, under oath. Even the courts—which are the appropriate venue for establishing the truth or falsehood of such charges—recognize the extreme difficulty of establishing facts so long after the event by imposing a statute of limitations (which the Broaddrick incident has already exceeded). The political process, beset by partisan agendas and lacking even a jury insulated from the defendant, is certainly incapable of doing do so.

Without the possibility of ascertaining the truth, a congressional investigation would be just another partisan smear campaign similar to the Democrats' successful campaign to remove Senator Bob Packwood. (The fact that feminists have begun to rally to Mrs. Broaddrick's cause—now that the President who champions their political agendas can no longer be removed—should be a caution to Republicans who entertain these ideas. Sometimes, who your allies are does tell you something.)

This entire destructive course in America's political life began, of course, with the most disgraceful episode in the history of American liberalism—the public lynching of Justice Clarence Thomas seven years ago over the unproven and unprovable allegations of a probably spurned and certainly spiteful woman seven years earlier. One of the chief lessons of the Clinton scandal is that the Anita Hill era is over. Another should be: Good riddance.

 

SALON | March 15, 1999


David Horowitz is the founder of The David Horowitz Freedom Center and author of the new book, One Party Classroom.


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