March 1999 – I have here before me a copy of Time magazine from February 1, 1999. The cover bears a photograph of President Bill Clinton looking straight into the camera with sort of a half-grin, half-smirk. That’s my interpretation. The caption reads, “How He Does It: Inside Clinton’s campaign to survive.” Many thoughts run through my head as I look at this cover. I don’t trust President Clinton at all, but that’s another story.
I was born in 1963. (Stay with me here, I’m not going to relive all 36 years of my life for you here. Though I know you would like for me to, there’s simply not space.) Basically, I am a child of the ’70s. You know – The Brady Bunch, bell-bottom pants, the energy crisis and Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter.
There are a few lifelong, vivid memories that we all take with us from our youth. Just as those who lived during the ’60s remember where they were when President Kennedy was shot, I remember where I was when President Nixon announced his resignation August 8, 1974. I was at my best friend Rusty’s house between pickup baseball games. Rusty’s mom asked us to be quiet as the president appeared on national television to make a historic announcement. It was that day President Nixon resigned the office of the presidency to keep from being impeached and, according to him, “…to begin the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.” As I looked over at Rusty’s mom to see a grown-up’s reaction to this, she was beginning to weep. That made a profound impact on me. I was 11 years old and to see an adult cry made me feel so uncomfortable.
Although I never asked her about it, I sensed that she was shedding tears for America and out of sympathy for President Nixon. My feelings at the time were sadness as well, because this was the only president I had really known. But as I listened to President Nixon that hot summer’s day I also heard him saying he was placing the good of the country above himself. He was not going to put America through the anguish of impeachment when he was the one responsible for the mess in which the country found itself.
As I look back at the Time cover of President Clinton again I think how times have changed. Here is a man who has committed numerous reprehensible acts, any one of which is serious enough to expect his resignation under what was once normal conditions. But not this president. I watched his appearance before the federal grand jury. I saw this president raise his right hand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But then he spent the rest of the time obviously trying to play word game trickery with the people asking the questions. I watched as my president worked not to tell the truth, but rather to beat the system. It was pathetic. But I wonder, “Is Bill Clinton just a reflection of our collective moral character?”
During the past two years I have seen five men that I’ve known well as friends – men I would have described as Promise Keeper types – commit adultery and leave their wives and children. All were in their 30s or 40s. What strikes me is not so much that these guys fell into immorality, but rather, when found out and confronted, they were unrepentant and refused to be restored to their wives and children. They made a conscious decision to rebel against God’s law, their marriage vows and what they professed to be right. One of them said he didn’t care if he lost his wife, his two little boys, his church fellowship, his job and his friends. He just wanted to have a woman who was herself another man’s wife. He even tried to justify it morally.
What upsets me more than anything else is not the sin itself. I understand that all our hearts are like dry tinder, only a spark away from bursting into flame. But what bewilders me is when we turn right and wrong on its head and attempt to paint those who speak the truth to be the crazy ones.
One common and effective strategy is to call those who stand for righteousness and morality intolerant, judgmental and hypocritical no matter how fair-minded, compassionate and reasonable they are. In the case of President Clinton, I am firmly convinced that the Republicans would be better off if Clinton had never had an 18 month adulterous affair with an intern and then lied about it for seven months, even under oath. Instead, now, in the eyes of many Americans, he’s the victim and the Republicans are the bad guys. It’s a 1 + 1 = 3 America today. Go figure.
Shame and honor are healthy values in any society. For the first 200 years of our nation’s history, Americans understood that. Sadly, we see little of either today. Whether or not we can reclaim them remains to be seen.