Que Sera, Sera

After impeachment, the Scarlet "I" is indelible

Issue: "Parable of the perjurer," Jan. 9, 1999

As my family and I caught up on old Alfred Hitchcock movies during Christmas (excuse me: winter solstice) vacation, we saw Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much belting out her trademark melody, "Que Sera, Sera" (Whatever will be, will be). While that song did not make me think of Ms. Day as a Calvinist, it does summarize my relaxed sense about any official chastisement of President Clinton that proceeds from here. What bugged lots of us throughout 1998 was the idea that the president would get off without a Scarlet "I" indelibly marked next to his name in the history books. Now that Mr. Clinton has been impeached, that is no longer possible. Judging by the evidence now available, I would prefer the Senate to convict and remove from office the adulterer/perjurer, but I won't get all broken up if, as seems likely, senators balk-as long as they affirm the essential judgment of the House by condemning such behavior. Except for the disgusting Clinton pep rally following the impeachment vote, Saturday, Dec. 19, was a great day for the education of our children. The hope that moral leadership in America had not collapsed was furthered by Bob Livingston's resignation: Children should learn from his and Bill Clinton's experience that, since what is done privately eventually becomes public, fear of both God and man should lead all of us to uphold our marital vows and tell the truth. Last month's events also increased our possibility of enjoying good leadership down the road. Every president or speaker of the house sets up expectations for his successors. Leaders seen as having high moral character raise the bar, and the reverse is also true. When George Washington self-consciously attempted to personify virtue, his successors for a time felt the same pressure. When Abraham Lincoln grew a beard, each of the next four elected Republican presidents also had a beard. Had Bill Clinton not been impeached and Bob Livingston not resigned, future leaders would have had a lower bar to hop over. The president's impeachment may also help us to redefine the task of leadership. Pollsters since 1993 have regularly asked, "Do you approve or disapprove of the way Bill Clinton is handling his job as president?" The president's grades have been high because the economy has been strong, but maybe now Americans can agree that, regardless of where the stock market is, a leader's minimum task is to uphold the law, not break it. Maybe we can agree that anyone who represents the United States to foreign leaders should not have a personal life that allows him to be readily mocked. Maybe the impeachment will also focus voters on what to look for in our next president. Early this year Chris Matthews on CNBC noted poignantly, "We, 49 percent of us at least, bought this box of cereal called Bill Clinton. Inside some of us expected to find, perhaps, one of those little plastic toys slipped in between the box and the wax paper. Instead, we opened the box one winter day this year to find not a harmless novelty item, but a spider, an eight-legged hairy bug crawling in what we expected to be a hearty January breakfast. We now have to live with it, including those of us who were so hungry for leadership in this aging century that we heard it and discounted, back when we had the choice ... that telltale scratching in the box." We need journalists in the year 2000 who will report the telltale scratching. Reverence toward God does not confer the ability to have a successful presidency: Look at Jimmy Carter. Faithfulness to a wife is no guarantee of faithfulness to the country: Look at Richard Nixon. But faithlessness in both areas is a leading indicator of trouble. Small betrayals within marriage generally lead to larger betrayals, and leaders who break a large vow to one person find it easy to break relatively small vows to millions. The word "impeachment" comes from the Latin word impedica: to catch, entangle. In essence, it means gotcha-and we need journalists willing to catch those who have entangled themselves in lies. Journalists are the first line of defense against having to go through more impeachment trials or resignations under pressure: If leading journalists had done their jobs in 1992 or even in 1996, we would not have had to live under a dark cloud through much of 1998. But on Dec. 19, that dark cloud displayed a silver lining-if we are discerning enough to see it.

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Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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