How Clinton Survives

by Patrick J. Buchanan – May 8, 1998

“How does this guy survive?”

As I learned on an April book tour, that question perplexes and puzzles. How does the president continue to ride so high in public approval, despite revelations that would end the career of a college or corporate president? How? A few reflections.

First, Bill Clinton is a lame-duck president in his last term, not a candidate his party can dump. Had the revelations about Monica and Kathleen Willey hit before 1992, or even 1996, some in his party might have moved against Clinton, rather than go into an election debating what we debate today. But, as Clinton has no intention of resigning, his party has no choice but to defend its flawed leader.

Second, on matters of morality, Clinton’s political base is far more tolerant than the conservative and Christian base of the GOP. Sens. John Tower and Robert Packwood were abandoned for sins less scarlet than those alleged against Clinton. One recalls the shock at the release of the Nixon tapes, not because of any wrongdoing revealed, but because of all of those “expletives deleted.” The GOP remains traditional in its moral beliefs, while the New Democratic Party has accommodated itself to the mores of the 1960s Sexual Revolution.

Third, with the secularization of society, power has become a substitute for salvation. Clintonites are not about to let sexual misbehavior or unproven crimes force them to relinquish what they scratched and struggled for: their hour of power.

Fourth, the right is so detested by some in the media that they would prefer to see Clinton evade justice than have the right proven right. In Watergate, virtually the entire press corps sought Richard Nixon’s disgrace and ruin. But to many in today’s media, our baby boomer president is “one of us, not one of them.”

The media, needing heroes for its morality play in which Nixon was cast as Satan, lionized Sam Erwin, John Sirica and Archibald Cox. Clinton’s antagonists, however, from Newt to Dan Burton to Ken Starr, do not wear white hats in Washington newsrooms.

Fifth, though some of the tactics of the White House War Room — such as using detectives to dig up dirt on the independent counsel — may disgust, it has proven a ruthlessly effective operation in blackening reputations, muddying issues and diverting attention.

Sixth, as the economy and the Dow are doing so well, folks ask, why rock the boat? Why cripple the president; what good will come of it? Disgusted with politics, they look on Monicagate as a sordid soap opera in which they have no stake. And even among Clinton’s critics, there is a sense that the nation that elected him twice, not partisan Republicans and political opponents, should decide his fate.

Finally, the land of Jerry Springer is no longer the America we grew up in. As one Leo Hodge wrote in a January letter to The Wall Street Journal, the Zeitgeist of the Clinton era can be found in antinomianism, the Christian heresy “that one is exempt from socially established moral standards by virtue of the state of grace conferred by one’s faith in a belief system. In 14th century Europe, the Brethren of the Free Spirit (a k a Beghards) flaunted both moral law and church doctrine because their exalted status as saved Christians raised them above the rank of ordinary mortals. Under the special dispensations claimed by the Brethren, sex and theft seemed to head the list.”

Among today’s secularized moral arbiters, a leader’s character is judged less on how he conducts his private life than where he stands on public issues. Enlist in all the enlightened causes — gay rights, abortion rights and so on — and one gets a pass in his private sins.

Antinomian “decadence,” writes Hodge, “can be ‘justified’ if one has been consecrated in some sect of egalitarian religion.” And the mark of the elect is “conspicuous compassion,” a demonstrated capacity to feel another’s pain.

Many marvel that Clinton shows no remorse or shame at the most tawdry of revelations that would embarrass and humiliate most men. But a sense of shame is the other side of the coin of a set of moral beliefs. Perhaps Clinton exhibits no shame, because, in his own code and heart, he has done no wrong and is but an innocent martyr to the malice of the unenlightened.

“(T)he antinomian true believer,” writes Hodge, “replaces morality with the pieties of his belief system, and no longer recognizes any obligation to abide by the rules established to make a communal existence possible.”

Anybody got a better explanation?