Maybe the Democrats were right in 1998 when they defended President Bill Clinton during the impeachment process by noting that he only lied about having an affair with a White House intern. It was only about sex after all. Besides, despite the widespread knowledge of Clinton’s womanizing, he still won two terms as President. It wasn’t about official actions. Or was it?
The problem with Clinton was that his moral relativism didn’t stop at the bedroom door. It permeated his life – public and private. Much to the glee of Republicans and the frustration of Democrats, Clinton’s moral relativism resulted in Washington spending much of the 1990s investigating the Clintons and the Clinton White House. Whitewater. FBI files. Travel office firings. Law firm billing records. Chinese campaign contributions. Pardons. Clinton’s ethical problems defined his presidency and likely caused Al Gore to lose the 2000 election.
Notwithstanding the disdain of moderates and liberals who pooh-pah the importance of personal morals and ethics, those concepts – debated by some of the greatest minds in history like Aristotle, Plato, and St. Augustine – matter because, without them, man reverts to the state of nature where anything goes and might makes right. For years, Republicans had cornered the market as the party of values because it understood this reality.
In the watershed election of 1994, Republicans offered voters the Contract with America. The Contract with America contained (among other items) pledges to be fiscally responsible and to promote personal responsibility and reinforce family values. The voters accepted the Contract with America by giving Republicans control of the House of Representatives for the first time in over four decades. Soon thereafter, Republicans captured the Senate and the Presidency. During that time, Republicans had an occasional Bob Packwood, but he was lost in the Clinton Ocean of ethical issues. In a 1998 Gallup Poll, Republicans had an eleven-point edge as the party most able to deal with moral issues.
On the road to Damascus, however, we lost our way.
Matt A. Mayer, President & CEO of Provisum Strategies LLC and Adjunct Professor at The Ohio State University, is the author of the book “Homeland Security and Federalism: Protecting America from Outside the Beltway” available in June 2009.