We have a lot in this issue about the drama in Washington. We know many people are sick of it. And we at WORLD are not DC-centric: What's going on in our churches, families, schools, and businesses is far more important than the standard political debates. But if you have listened to Henry Hyde or Lindsey Graham or Asa Hutchinson during the last several weeks, you know that the saga of Jefferson Smith vs. William Jefferson Clinton is no ordinary debate.
What we've seen here, as in the 1939 movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, is perseverance for justice in the face of scornful demands to give up. The "end it" drum beat of the press, finally rallying to the Clinton side, has been incessant. The polls have functioned like the baskets of telegrams delivered to Jimmy Stewart's character in 1939: Give up, give up, give up, they say. But tell your children and grandchildren that congressmen Hyde, Graham, Hutchinson, Charles Canady, James Rogan, and the others did not give up.
Six lessons from recent events stand out in my mind, and I want to present them straightforwardly. First, conservative populists who for years have raged against "the elites" should reconsider. As our cover story shows, liberal reporters have distorted some poll findings, but the public in general did not rise up against adultery and lying. We need to avoid creeping universalism and recognize that the basic biblical divide is between neither elites and masses nor rich and poor, but between those who follow Christ and those who disdain Him.
Second, the disdainers clearly have no fear of the Lord, but they do fear conservative Christians. That no member of the Clinton administration has resigned in protest, and that congressional Democrats almost unanimously shamed themselves, can partly be explained by the moral bankruptcy of a once-great party, along with knowledge of how Clinton partisans harass those who cross them. But there's more: A lot of folks on the left truly fear that if Bill Clinton falls to those who believe in biblical right and wrong, they will be next. Hence, their furious defense of the indefensible.
Third, it's time to distinguish between sleaze and significance, between long-ago sin that has been repented of and current (or recent) immorality. Some pundits have made it seem that those who favor examining the beliefs and practices of candidates are looking for sinlessness, but no one who reads the Bible and understands that all have sinned should fall into that fallacy. Extreme defenders of Bill Clinton can both underplay White House adultery and publicize the sins of his critics from decades past. But for Christians, moderation in the pursuit of vice is no vice.
Fourth, party polarization in Congress during the impeachment debate and trial points to an even deeper divide in the nation as a whole. Sociologist Alan Wolfe titled his recent book One Nation, After All, but this past year's lesson seems exactly the opposite: We are two nations on two whitewater rafts, one heading toward killer rapids, the other swirling in an eddy. The first raft will be saved only by a great miracle, and we should pray for a turning as great as Jonah witnessed in Nineveh. The second raft is in great danger but may be saved by the daily minor miracles of people doing what they already know is true, rather than conforming themselves to political and cultural fashion.
Fifth, this has been a proud moment for the Republican Party. Many of us were saddened by the GOP leadership's lack of boldness during the three years from the government shutdown defeat of 1995 through the elections of 1998. Some listened attentively to third-party calls last year. But House Republicans showed during the Clinton debates that they could fight, and the new House leadership supported them. If this new willingness to proclaim truth with fierce conviction carries over into legislative battles throughout the year, voters who turn to a Jesse Ventura because of his forthrightness will have better options.
Sixth, if Bill Clinton does stay in office, as seems likely, we should treasure up this debate and not let bitterness consume us. When Jacob's wife Rachel, dying in a strange land after childbirth, called her newborn Ben-oni (son of sorrows), Jacob had the wisdom to rename him Benjamin (son of my right hand) so that he would not be reminded of misery every time he called his son's name. We should think of the past several months not as the time of Clinton survival, but the period in which congressmen Hyde, Graham, Hutchinson, and others valiantly showed that what may be temporarily lost causes are the ones worth fighting for.