Clinton, Bill

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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Paging Stuart Smalley

Twenty-five years ago, I was a 19-year-old college kid joyously wallowing in Watergate. The previous fall I'd volunteered for the McGovern campaign, in Mississippi, where we got about 20 percent of the vote. It was character-building to experience such crushing defeat at such a tender age. And it made the vengeance of Watergate that much sweeter.

As this is written, the Senate trial of President Clinton is beginning. Even at this late date, not many people are wallowing in Clinton's perjury and obstruction problems the way we did with the unraveling of Nixon's police-state ambitions. It all seems like a bad soap opera, and, like most Americans, I've tried mightily to avoid knowing too much about it.

Then, when the House debated impeachment in December, I happened to be spending seven hours in a car. Thanks to National Public Radio, I heard about as much of the debate as any reasonable person could endure. Now I'm following the story, at last, and experiencing some pop cultural flashbacks in the process, but not from the Watergate '70s.

In a 1965 song called "It's All Right, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," Bob Dylan wrote the famous words "Sometimes even the President of the United States must have to stand naked." The president then was Lyndon Johnson. LBJ once pulled up his shirt to display a fresh surgical scar to the White House press corps and was known to hold conversations with aides while seated on the toilet. But Dylan seemed to have emotional and spiritual nakedness on his mind—the nudity that is every human's state before God.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1999
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Clinton's Repentance--And Ours

Many of those present for Bill Clinton’s prayer breakfast repentance were moved. Unlike his August 17 address to the nation, this speech was contrite enough to convince. Of course, many of his spiritual advisers have been counseling Clinton for many months to tell the truth for the sake of his own soul, his family, and the nation. To admit "sin" now, after having been caught by a relentless prosecutor, cornered by a grand jury, and run out of delaying and obfuscating tactics clearly has not persuaded everyone of the sincerity of the president’s repentance. My religious mother (who voted for Clinton) put it this way: "He didn’t really repent, he just got caught."

But even "foxhole conversions" can be genuine. In the wave of ever-stronger reactions, even from his own party members, to the president’s "immoral" and "disgraceful" behavior, Clinton is becoming increasingly sorry, but he still wants the nation to forgive him and to "move on."

By anyone’s definitions, Bill Clinton has much to repent of. But, maybe, so do the rest of us. Much has been said about Clinton being the first "baby boomer" president. And to be honest, the now terribly public revelations of the president’s behavior are embarrassing to many of our generation. While Bill Clinton may be characteristically excessive, are there ways that his behavioral style is all too representative of an America led by our generation?

WHILE CLINTON’S moral failures are astounding, are they also archetypal, and do they give us all reason for reflection? Perhaps there is more to repent of here than just his betrayal of his family and the public trust.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1998
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Project Censored

The Clinton administration’s aggressive promotion of U.S. arms sales around the world tops Project Censored’s list of censored or underreported news stories for 1997. Project Censored is an award-winning students and faculty media watch program at Sonoma State University in California.

According to Project Censored, the mainstream media have failed to report that the United States’ share of the global arms market has grown from 16 percent to 63 percent in the past 10 years—in spite of the 1997 Arms Transfer Code of Conduct that prohibits U.S. commercial arms sales to governments that are undemocratic, abuse human rights, or pursue international aggression.

Peter Phillips, the director of Project Censored, said, "Investigative journalists are writing and printing hundreds of important stories that are ignored by a major media too interested in celebrity news, infomercials, and titillation."

Other underreported news stories that made Project Censored’s Top 10 list include: the presence of carcinogens in personal care and cosmetic products; experimentation and forced implantation of the Norplant contraceptive on poor women in the Third World and in the United States; and the Army’s plans to incinerate obsolete chemical weapons at a plant in Oregon’s Columbia River basin.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1998
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The Moral Issue

In the first stage of the White House sex scandal, the media was obsessed with how allegations of sexual misconduct and possible cover-up against Bill Clinton might bring down his presidency. "Can Clinton survive?" was the question reporters barraged us with that week. The best answer was, "We'll have to wait until we really know what happened." Of course, the high velocity and fiercely competitive media couldn't do that as they rushed to judgment, turning even mere rumors into instant news stories in a bigger press frenzy than even the death of Princess Diana had created. During Watergate, it took two reliable sources to confirm a controversial news story, but those standards have long since been abandoned.

The second stage of the scandal began with Bill Clinton's successful State of the Union speech and Hillary Clinton's vigorous attack on her husband's critics. When the media saw public opinion polls much more favorable to Clinton than to them, they changed their message dramatically. The press then began saying that the public cares more about the president's policies than they do about his sex life, and started asking religious and moral leaders whether they were appalled by this attitude. Instead of asking, "What's more important, the president's morality or his political agenda?" we should have been asking about the connections between the two.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1998
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