The Death of Outrage
by William J. Bennett

An attack on Bill Clinton that emphasizes the discredit Clinton brought upon the holy office of President. The heart of Bennett’s argument, in so far as it proves that Clinton caused the public to disrespect the central government, backfires, as far as I am concerned, because it shows Clinton as a destroyer of evil myths and fairy tales and as a man who weakened the moral authority of the president to persuade the public to make great sacrifices in future misadventures such as wars and imperialistic interventions. Clinton’s actions that outrage Bennett the most are the ones that have the most beneficial effects. Clinton’s draft dodging and obstruction of justice were neither wrong nor unhealthy. On the contrary they were sensible acts of self-defense against threats from the criminal state, and they set a good example. They show that Clinton has a realistic view of the nature of government compared to Bennett, who believes government is a force for good and serves a “high moral purpose.”

Bennett includes a quotation that aptly attacks his own position:

“there is something childlike and politically dangerous about expecting the president to serve as our moral exemplar” (32)
To counter the everybody-does-it defense, Bennett makes legitimate distinctions between the level of adultery of Eisenhower and FDR compared to Clinton. But Bennett goes too far when he asserts
“Most presidents do not chronically deceive, delay, obfuscate, and stonewall federal investigators.” (68)
In particular, the crimes of FDR, Truman, JFK, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon were many times worse that the crimes that Clinton tried to cover up. Bennett is more successful in his attempt to show that Clinton and his defenders have lowered the level of our culture with regard to honesty and sex morals. Bennett shows how hypocritical Clinton’s defenders are. For example:
“But assume for the sake of argument that there were no extenuating circumstances to help explain why Ms. Tripp did what she did. Assume it was a betrayal of a friend. Why all the venom directed at Ms. Tripp, and at the same time justification for the president? Why are people so quick to censure Tripp’s actions, and so willing to excuse the president’s? Why would the secret taping of a co-worker be considered magnitudes worse than the betrayal of a spouse?” (21)
Another good question he raises is:
“Is the logic that, if sex is at the bottom, anything piled on top is irrelevant?” (29)
Clinton did us a favor by engendering cynicism about the Presidency, lawyers, and the central government and by encouraging his feminist defenders to reveal their utter hypocrisy. But his Hollywood-style personal morals set a bad example for married men and for employers in the workplace. Clinton defined personal morality down. Bennett probably has much better personal morality. However, regarding public morality, Clinton and Bennett verbally express similar political philosophies, but Bennett actually believes his philosophy, whereas Clinton has more sense than that. Judging them by what they really believe about the use of violence rather than what they say, it strikes me that Bennett’s morality is more perverted than Clinton’s. Bennett favorably quotes John Buchan as follows;
“Politics is still the greatest and the most honorable adventure.” (72)

Year Read: 2001


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