by Patrick J. Buchanan – September 22, 1998
Just as Watergate was always about much more than who covered up a minor break-in, so the scandal that roils this city now is about far more than whether Bill Clinton exploited a 21-year-old intern and lied about it under oath.
Monicagate is a battlefield in the war for the soul of America, a war that is religious and cultural in character, as well as political.
By 1973, Richard Nixon had been targeted for political execution by an establishment that had been broken on the wheel of Vietnam and was seething at the political triumph of a detested president. Watergate merely gave it an opening to effect a deed already done in the heart. As Nixon put it, “I gave them a sword, and they ran it through me.”
And the impeachment of William Clinton is also a struggle that goes beyond politics, pitting believers in an older moral order against the Woodstock Generation.
Clinton surely does not represent all of the Baby Boomers. After all, many of them fought in Vietnam, and they helped to elect Ronald Reagan. But Clinton was the first president to come out of an elite that was pampered and fawned upon in that scoundrel time as the “finest young generation we have ever produced.”
A defining mark of that slice of Bill and Hillary’s generation was its claim to moral superiority. It pronounced Vietnam a “dirty and immoral war,” denounced America as “racist and corrupt,” trashed its teachers as collaborators in an unjust social order, and regarded Lyndon Johnson and Nixon as evil incarnate. And because its hearts were pure, it awarded itself exemption from rules and laws written for less sensitive souls.
In the name of civil rights, abortion rights or gay rights, one was entitled to engage in civil disobedience. Even the violence used by the left was of a higher order. The violence of Chicago cops was, for example, a “police riot”; the urban riots, however, were “uprisings of the underclass.”
It was in the mud at Woodstock that Clinton’s peers publicly embraced the morality of the Humanist Manifesto: Consensual sex has no moral component. Whether one does drugs is one’s own business. Abortion is a matter of choice, and there exists no objective moral order. One chooses a moral code to suits one’s own personality and lifestyle. In the phrase of the day, “Do your own thing.”
In the culture, Woodstock triumphed. Hollywood today celebrates values that are the antithesis of the patriotism, courage, fidelity and honor it celebrated only 40 years ago.
But in politics, Woodstock was routed. The dominant figure of the new era turned out to be a Midwestern personification of the old virtues who had declared Vietnam “a noble cause” — Ronald Reagan.
With Clinton’s victory in 1992, the cultural war ratcheted up. Clinton was shocked to discover that his values of the ’60s — gays in the military, “boxers or briefs,” Astroturf in the Camaro and Joycelyn Elders’ ideas of sexual enlightenment — had never taken root in America. After 1994’s political backlash, Clinton altered course to do a passable imitation of a social conservative — yes to school uniforms, cops, the military and personal accountability.
What has happened now is that Clinton has been caught out, in flagrante, acting within the rubric of a New Morality in which the Woodstock Generation never ceased to believe. And the rage in the Clinton of the tapes is that, here he is, this paragon of his era, being accused of immoral and squalid conduct by Kenneth Starr, a psalm-singing acolyte from the other side of the religious tracks. The message of Clinton’s anger on his grand jury tape is a simple one: Who are these (expletives) to hold me to account?
With all the talk of “war,” “scorched earth” and tearing open closets, this is clearly a struggle over more than Clinton’s political survival. Believing Clinton’s conduct to be inexcusably immoral, beneath any minimal standard of decency demanded of its leaders, traditional America means to purge him from office for living by Woodstock values that most of America’s social and media elite also embrace.
Thus, if Congress and traditional America declare Clinton a moral reprobate who must be driven out to purify the presidency, they will be censuring as well, for low morals, our cultural elite. But that elite, which believes itself almost god-like because of the causes for which it fights — AIDS research, anti-apartheid — is not going to humbly accept such a verdict upon itself.
No, the Woodstock Generation will use its cultural siege guns to bring down the temple upon us all. How do you like the Cultural War?