Blameworthy though Bill Clinton may be for the total disrespect and disrepair surrounding our governmental systems, we err desperately if we lay the blame primarily at his feet. We would have escaped this mess long ago if the people themselves had exhibited even a slightly different value system. Still, a decision by the U.S. Senate to convict the president-even though deserved-will not begin to solve our problems as a people. The reason: It leaves the people who elected Mr. Clinton, and who subsequently and repeatedly have said that they approve of him and even admire him, fully in control.
The biggest problem around is not that Bill Clinton, president of the United States, is some kind of embarrassing exception to our style of thinking and living today. The biggest problem is that he is such a faithful representation of the way a clear majority of the people of this society think and live.
The proof keeps coming from all over. We like to think we're so much better than we are-but the evidence keeps telling us otherwise.
Take the discouraging little story this past week from South Carolina. Theater operator David Crenshaw, just 70 miles down the road from our offices here at WORLD, decided last August that he'd take his stand for righteousness and quit showing R-rated movies. Like so many others, he tended to blame the elitists-the people up the culture chain-for their corrosive effect on the American people. He decided to trust his economic future instead to the common people, and their willingness to "go for the good stuff."
But the common people over the last five months betrayed David Crenshaw. Instead of patronizing his theater because of his stand for what was good, they deserted him and went to the theaters that showed the raunchy stuff they really wanted. Ticket sales, and profits, at Mr. Crenshaw's cineplex plummeted by 40 percent. So last week, a sadder and more cynical man, Mr. Crenshaw started scheduling the R-rated films again. "You can't make people want something they don't want," he said quite simply.
Mr. Crenshaw's story is the story of the American people right now. Blue-sky optimists among us like to deny that we're really like that. They insist that the public opinion polls are wrong. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar fans those doubts by pointing out that among the thousands of people who have attended his seminars, he's not yet found a single person who's ever been queried by one of the major pollsters. Well, Mr. Ziglar's mini-polls may be right-but the bottom line remains the same: When it comes time to make hard economic choices, the American people more and more spend their money for vice rather than for virtue. That's the poll that seems to count.
More than a dozen years ago, Charles Colson told some of us of a conversation he had with a major TV network executive. "Why don't you folks schedule more uplifting material?" Mr. Colson asked. "I'll tell you why," the fellow responded heatedly. "Did you happen to notice that we scheduled Chariots of Fire this past Sunday evening? And did you see how we got clobbered by the competition from another network-which was a sleazy story about two prostitutes?" Some in the crowd where Mr. Colson told the story argued feebly that it wasn't a fair test since so many of the potential audience might have been attending the evening services of their churches. But such optimists obviously haven't been counting attendance at evening services during the last few years.
In pointing an accusing finger at the common people, I'm hardly exonerating leadership-whether it's Bill Clinton, the TV networks, the movie producers, or anyone else who helps shape opinion. For certainly at the core of the overall problem is the fact that Americans today have had their minds and hearts profoundly shaped over the last couple of generations by schoolteachers, ministers, librarians, newspaper editors, musicians and songwriters, advertisers, artists, and other cultural agenda setters. And for the most part, this unrelenting cadre of mind-shapers is made up of people who themselves were shaped by Darwinian, Marxist, Freudian, and Deweyist thinking and presuppositions. To suppose that even well-intentioned people will not be changed by such an onslaught is to say that education, the media, and the entertainment industries have no effect.
Yet among all the errors such mind-shapers have promulgated, none is more damaging than this: Absolutes are forsaken, while all has become relative. Our societal theme song has become something like, "Well, of course, I don't personally approve-but who am I to judge?"