President Clinton's second inaugural address, while making some people feel good (always his primary objective), was not short on specifics. It had none.
What it did have was a carload of hubris: from his call for civility and an end to division--after he and his party spent two years practicing incivility and division by demonizing the Republican Party as granny-haters and Newt Gingrich as Beelzebub--to his statement that America is the world's "indispensable nation."
The president is said to have written the speech himself, so he has no one else to blame for saying we live in "a moment that will define our course and our character." Moments don't define character. Character--or the lack of it--is reflected in many moments which make up the spirit of an age.
He said we are all "created equal," but the most pro-abortion president in history refuses to recognize any value inside the womb. He said the American promise "exploded onto the world stage to make this the American century" and "saved the world from tyranny in two world wars and a long cold war...." This was only because generations preceding his were willing to pay any price and bear any burden for the cause of liberty.
Mr. Clinton deified the Information Age as a solution to many of our problems. But speeding up the way we receive information has not made us more virtuous.
In a partial concession to Ronald Reagan, the president acknowledged that while "government is not the problem, government is not the solution." But he carefully indicated he would define when government could be used as the solution. He even said it is government's responsibility to teach children to read. Yet at his party's convention in Chicago--attended by many teachers' union members--he called for an army of volunteers to enter the schools to teach reading, suggesting that government schools have fallen short.
He did speak eloquently about our great racial divide, but failed to note that the liberals' constant harping about multiculturalism, Ebonics, and hyphenated Americans (even Clinton fan Whoopi Goldberg says she is not an African-American but an American), along with the perpetuation of a victim culture, widens the divisions and makes healing more difficult.
Mr. Clinton said the election of a president of one party and a Congress of the other party means the people want to "repair the breach." As with so many of the president's phrases, we are left wondering what this means. Is he calling for unity or union? There's a difference. Even the Lord, who was so often invoked and sometimes misquoted (as in Tony Campolo's mini-sermon in which he claimed God destroyed Sodom not because of its sexual perversions, as the biblical account records, but because it didn't treat the poor well), said he had come to bring a sword and would divide even families over truth.
If the president were serious about ending partisan bickering, he should have called off the pack of Democratic dogs, led by Michigan Rep. David Bonior, before their two-year assault on House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
In a critique of the president's speeches, Tracy Simmons wrote in National Review: "His rhetoric reflects the vagueness of his policies and his desire not so much to persuade as to please; often he doesn't exhort, he grovels." In a culture that has ceded the verbal to the visual, Bill Clinton is the flesh that becomes the word. "His speeches," Ms. Simmons wrote, "don't surge; they stagger with a smile and rely too heavily on otherwise noble ideals that have lost their polish without fresh wordsmithing. Precision also suffers. Some of his prepared remarks wouldn't even make the grade as decent college writing."
Test this assertion. Can you remember a soaring phrase? Can you imagine such pedestrian words in the mouth of Churchill, or FDR, or even JFK?
The larger question is whether Mr. Clinton meant any of it. As Garry Wills noted in a New York Times Magazine piece last Sunday, Mr. Clinton is "amoral," indulges in "lavish overpromising," and is an "equal opportunity disappointer." Mr. Wills quotes former Clinton aide and homosexual activist David Mixner as concluding he could not count on the president "whenever principle comes up against political advantage."
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray that the president meant at least some of what he said, knows what he meant, and that we will soon find out. But based on his record, don't count on it.
copyright 1997, Los Angeles Times Syndicate