Diana West: We should be embarrassed by Bill Clinton
Finally, a headline of my dreams: “Rand Paul: Democrats Should Be ‘Embarrassed’ to Be Seen With Bill Clinton.”
I became a columnist and editorial writer at The Washington Times in the aftermath of Bill Clinton’s Dec. 19, 1998 impeachment (I put out the flag to mark the historic date), but the impeachment beat would remain busy through the next election cycle. There was much fallout to wade through — Clinton’s contempt of court finding, his subsequent disbarments (in Arkansas and at the U.S. Supreme Court), controversy over then-presidential candidate Al Gore’s come-what-may support for Clinton, and numerous other scandals now mainly forgotten. For a flickering moment, Bill Clinton was really in disgrace — eclipse, certainly — and the scandals, both large and petty, didn’t stop, not even after Bill and Hillary left the White House. Remember Pardongate? Giftgate?
The Clinton saga, though, isn’t about one man, or even one president. Bill Clinton’s gold-plated stature symbolizes something larger — a loss of moral balance throughout society. At the time, Clinton himself was unaware of this imbalance, something that becomes apparent when recalling everything he did to cover up a scandal for which the American public, it turned out, had no intention of penalizing him. Indeed, there has been no enduring disgust about his lying, his predatory and abusive behaviors (let alone serial corruption and sellouts to the People’s Republic of China). The irony remains that Bill Clinton, our first adolescent president, actually believed his country was more grown up than he was. He was wrong. And that’s why Sen. Paul can make headlines for pointing out what, in a morally balanced society, would be unremarkable.
Seven years ago, I examined this phenomenon in my first book, “The Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization.” What I called “the death of the grown-up” was, in fact, my metaphor for the moral vacuum at the heart of society — again, larger than any one individual, even if Bill Clinton could serve as poster boy for the perpetual adolescent. More important, though, was (and still is) the country’s inability and/or disinterest in passing judgment according to traditional precepts of right and wrong. This remains symptomatic of a wider and very dangerous cultural devolution.
This is the hollow center of our “world without grown-ups.” It is a dangerous place, considering, as Byron York once pointed out, that “whenever a serious terrorist attack occurred, it seemed Bill Clinton was always busy with something else.” That “something else” invariably was a red-faced and protracted consequence of Clinton’s “embarrassing” behavior. For example, when the Khobar Towers were blown up in 1996 by Iranian terrorists possibly backed by al-Qaida, killing 19 servicemen and wounding almost 400 others, Bill Clinton’s White House was knee-deep in the corruption of “Whitewater” and “Filegate.” At the time of the 1998 twin embassy attacks by al-Qaida in Africa, the focus was Monica Lewinsky and the blue Gap dress she didn’t take to the cleaners.
The world continued to turn, even if the Bill Clinton White House hunkered down. The U.S. was passing bloody milestones in the jihad against the West, but We, the People, had to navigate the Clinton years in blinders along an alternate route — a dark tunnel marked by tawdry domestic scandal.
The moral of the Clinton story? Self-indulgent and society-indulged individuals (read: childish in the worst way) make corrupt and dangerous leaders. That’s not what Sen. Paul was saying — but it’s a start.
Diana West blogs at dianawest.net. She can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.