Lessons (Not) Learned

President Clinton said today that recent reports of police misconduct had shaken people’s faith in the police, and he proposed several measures that he said would help restore that trust. The President said he would propose that Congress spend more money to expand ethics training for police officers....The $42 million request includes $20 million to add ethics and integrity training for police officers at the nation’s 30 regional community policing institutes.

The New York Times, March 14, 1999

Pardon me. Something is seriously wrong here. We can be grateful that President Clinton realizes that one’s ethics and integrity play a vital role in being an effective police officer and in restoring the public’s trust in law enforcement. But what about the presidency?

For the last year, President Clinton has argued that he should be judged on the basis of his policies and that personal moral failures, while regrettable, are not really relevant to the job he is doing for the American people. Apparently, what’s true for police officers is not true for the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.

Both of us often felt politically homeless during the Clinton scandal. All the Democrats and most liberals ended up making excuses for Clinton and defending him politically. We weren’t comfortable with that. But the Republicans ended up looking like the Pharisees who were ready to stone the women taken in adultery while Jesus looked on. And while we often agreed with the conservatives on how much Clinton was morally damaging the country, we were uncomfortable with their broader political agenda. Now it’s time to take stock.

What lessons have we failed to learn in the course of the nation’s yearlong, Washington-produced drama on sex and politics? And what lasting wisdom and word should the church seek to impart as the curtain is drawn and this program goes off the air?

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1999
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