Clintons R Us

Posted: Feb 14, 2001 12:00 AM
Today's round of venomous Clinton-hating will now commence. You know what "Clinton-hating'' is, of course, as defined by Paul Begala, David Kendall and their acolytes. It's criticism of the Clintons: Bill and Hillary. Going on and on about the ex-presidential couple isn't their problem, it's something to do with us. The reality, I believe, is that only in the last few months have various Americans -- including some of us who cast two venomous ballots for presidential candidates other than Bill Clinton -- found we can't do without this remarkable pair. Just can't turn them loose. Clintons R Us: twin windows into the national soul, c. 2001. This is not to imply that we ourselves would necessarily have pardoned the husband of a major Democratic contributor, or blithely stuffed the moving van as we vacated the White House. Our relationship with the Clintons is more complicated than that -- more distant; not so much encouraging and approving of particular Clintonian activities as just plain not discouraging; unwilling to come between this priceless pair and their self-realization goals. The Clintons, to put the thing another way, personify the Age of Tolerance. We might not ourselves do a certain thing, but we're not going to come down too hard on those who make a different choice . Who's to say what's right? What's truth for you might not be truth for me. Just the other day, I heard a kindly looking woman, maybe 70 years old, say something of the sort during a Q and A with a speaker who had commended Plato's concept of objective truth. Your truth/my truth -- we're talking complements here, are we not? We must somehow or the other make our respective truths work in tandem. Such is diversity and such the modern spirit the Clintons have exploited -- I'm OK, you're OK, everything's OK (exceptions: smokers, guns, judgmentalism and gun-owning judgmentalists who smoke). As Alan Bloom noted 14 years ago, in "The Closing of the American Mind": "Openness -- and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings -- is the great insight of our times.'' Only a culture of openness could have given the Clintons what they wanted -- namely, everything. This, while asking little except, please, don't start a war or ruin the stock market. Watching where all this has led is fascinating. Nonjudgmentalism, vis-a-vis the Clintons, has meant in practice that they get to lie, deceive, and resolutely pursue their private interests (e.g., a Manhattan ex-presidential office with $800,000 rent) because no one tries to stop them. Not more than halfheartedly, anyhow. Impeachment, a theme Sen. Arlen Specter played with on TV last weekend, never had a chance two years ago. Lying under oath about sex was just what some people did. Time to move on! On the Clintons moved: the Marc Rich pardon, the removal of public property to private quarters, the looting of Air Force One, and the trashing of the vice presidential office, the easy assumption that the world (the nation, anyway) owed Mr. and Mrs. C a living. Are we describing here the Genghis Khan family? Nothing so awful as that, thank heaven. Greedy, careless, undisciplined, exhibitionistic -- Mr. and Mrs. Clinton are people of their time and place. Just more so. They seem unable even to help it. Unable, because they can't figure out what's wrong with being greedy, careless and so on. Their culture is wary of such categories. Leaning too hard on our "truths,'' we might exhibit disrespect for theirs, and that would be hurtful; violative of tolerance and pluralistic as to ways and modes of living. We didn't get to this point overnight, my fellow Americans; but, however grimy it is, here we are. And, by the way, where's Plato when you really need him?