This is a momentous event, unpredicted as recently as two months ago, when most followers thought the founder could stay as head of their religion for life if only the church's constitution permitted. Some analysts believe that six simultaneous scandals involving the two revered leaders of the vibrant eight-year religion may have something to do with the new doubts.
Probably not, though. Historians tell us that factual evidence rarely plays a part in the decline (or rise) of any faith. Besides, if facts made any difference, the leader's false testament would have led to a schism of some sort or at least cost him a few worshipful pundits. Ditto for the famous missionary outreach to the Chinese and the miracle of the blue dress.
Whatever the cause, spiritual crisis and doubt are all around us now. Sharing his dark night of the soul with readers, one Washington columnist wrote in an open letter to the founder, "I am silent. I can say nothing in your defense." Some believers were shocked by charges that the founder was selling indulgences to exiled sinners for $1 million plus a coffee table or two. Others felt that the founder's wife shouldn't have registered for gifts from the faithful, accepted $8 million from Viacom, or made off with pricey church furniture that someone had neglected to bolt down.
The whole thing "just smells bad," wrote one fervent apostle, a TV and magazine commentator who had not been known for detecting objectionable aromas in her church of choice. The founder and wife, she said, "capped their career in the White House by walking out the door with practically a pillow case stuffed with sterling." She noted that the founder's wife had clearly indicated which gifts she wanted from her followers, including china (Spode) and silver (Faberge). This comment would seem to indicate a break with her old religion.
As always, a mocking village atheist spoke up to make fun of the anxiety amid the previously pious. Mickey Kaus, on his Kausfiles Web site, noted that one unusually loyal columnist had finally turned against Clinton. "What's next?" Kaus wondered. "Maybe: 'The scales have fallen from my eyes,' Gene Lyons ... 'I always said he was a sleazeball,' Lanny Davis ... 'Can we still impeach him?' Paul Begala." The caustic references here were to members of the inner circle of believers who would rather join hands with Eleanor Clift and hurl themselves from a parapet than deny the alleged integrity of their sainted leader.
In New York City, where the founder has entered the difficult years of his Babylonian captivity, the first signs of outright impiety were visible. One prominent Democrat told The New York Observer that the general anger toward the founder and his wife "is really quite extraordinary, actually. I've never seen a reaction this unanimous." This was a big change from two years ago, when Manhattan's faithful glitterati were still genuflecting compulsively to the founder. The Observer complained editorially at the time: "Never has a president who brazenly lied to the American people been paid back by such an eloquent stack of affidavits to his good character."
Now that faith is fading. The New York Daily News, historically reverent toward the founder, is beating him regularly upside the head. The New York Times went even further, calling the founder "insensitive," the harshest ecclesiastical reproof possible at the high church of 43rd Street.
Daily News columnist and editor Michael Kramer offered criticism so strong that 1 million readers flipped back to the first page to see whether they had purchased the New York Post by mistake. The founder and his wife, Kramer wrote, "stripped the White House, pardoned their law-breaking campaign contributors, and have generally proved anew that eight years at the tippy top in no way caused them to develop anything even remotely resembling a moral compass." Readers nodded in agreement, as if this were new information.
Novelist Dominick Dunne, a longtime believer in Clintonism, made an earthier remark: "Here's this brilliant man, but there's always (something unpleasant) on the heel of his shoe. And that's going to ruin his triumphal entry into this city."
Even feminist leaders, who had worked so hard to look the other way when charges of harassment, groping and rape were leveled at the founder, began to hint at something unpleasant on the founder's shoes. Patricia Ireland used the phrase "the arrogance of it" to describe the founder's need for a $675,000-a-year taxpayer-paid office in New York.
Cynics believe that the loss of faith in Clintonism may have something to do with the fact that the founder no longer occupies his throne. Nonbelievers tend to welcome the new skepticism toward the old faith, even if it is years late. "It's worth noting that once upon a time such uninhibited resentment (toward Clinton) on the part of the media elite might actually have meant something," said The Washington Times. But look at the good side: Some separation at last between the Clinton Church and its acolytes in the fourth estate.