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    In the end this book rests on the venerable idea that moral good and moral harm are very real
    things, and moral good or moral harm can come to a society by what it esteems and by what it
    disdains.

    Many people have been persuaded to take a benign view of the Clinton presidency on the basis of
    arguments that have attained an almost talismanic stature but that in my judgment are deeply wrong
    and deeply pernicious. We need to say no to those arguments as loudly as we can -- and yes to the
    American ideals they endanger.
        -William J. Bennett, The Death of Outrage

    The fact that we still live well cannot ease the pain of feeling that we no longer live nobly.
         -John Updike

Well, it took nine long years of watching him wallow in moral degradation, political expedience, and self pity but at long last, I actually feel sorry for Bill Clinton.  I'm not generally big on the idea of entrapment as a defense, but if ever anyone has been justified in using it, Bill Clinton is over this whole pardon debacle.  After all, for nearly a decade now Hillary Clinton, campaign and White House staffers, the Democratic Party, editorial page writers, feminists, civil rights groups, moderate Republicans, liberal attorneys, academics, historians, and journalists have assured us, and him, that as long as Bill Clinton cared deeply, worked hard, and acknowledged that he isn't a moral paragon, then no personal crime should be held against him.  Among the crimes that we have excused were adultery, sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, sodomy, perjury, obstruction of justice, invasion of privacy, treason, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum.

As long as the Dow stayed high, it seemed like there was nothing that Clinton could do which would draw so much as a stern rebuke from the institutional Left in this country.  Oh sure, Joe Lieberman famously expressed some mild disappointment over the whole Monica mess, but it was really just the sort of solemn head wagging speech your Dad used to give you as an alternative to a spanking, and then Joe of course voted in lock step with the rest of his Party to exonerate the big lug.  Not a single member of Bill Clinton's Cabinet or staff ever resigned to protest his behavior; not a single member of his Party ever called on him to resign or even suggested that his offenses should be punished.  At the end of the Impeachment process, Bill Clinton was left standing tall and the people who sought to hold him to account--Ken Starr, Linda Tripp, Kathleen Willey, the House managers, etc.--were widely portrayed in the press as a collection of obsessive weirdos.  You can almost excuse the guy for feeling like he was bulletproof.

So then what happens ?  He's out of office for one month and what's everybody upset about ? What is the offense that finally gets even his wife and his former employees upset ?  What could possibly be so awful that even lap dog columnists like Al Hunt, Eleanor Clift, Richard Cohen and Jake Tapper are offended ?  What indiscretion is so monumental that it actually leads James Carville to stop defending him ?  The straw that broke the camel's back turns out to be a little bit of simony.  That's right; after all that's gone before, the piffling little matter of trading pardons for sexual favors and cash turns out to be the one thing that the Left can not tolerate.  To an impartial observer, this just doesn't seem fair.  It is far too late for Democrats to try to redeem themselves by finally holding Bill Clinton responsible for something; they lay down with this dog for a decade; it's no use expressing shock that they've woken up with fleas.  Bill Clinton is the victim of the worst kind of hypocrisy.  All those truly horrible things he did were just fine with the Party, as long as he was President.  Now he leaves office and his own cohorts are going to nail him for selling pardons, a victimless crime if ever there was one ?  Where do they get off ?

This is the very situation that Bill Bennett tried to warn them, and the rest of us, about when he wrote this little book at the height of the Monica scandal :

    [O]n Bill Clinton's behalf, in his defense, many bad ideas are being put into widespread circulation.
    It is said that private character has virtually no impact on governing character; that what matters
    above all is a healthy economy; that moral authority is defined solely by how well a president deals
    with public policy matters; that America needs to become more European (read: more
    "sophisticated") in its attitude toward sex; that lies about sex, even under oath, don't really matter;
    that we shouldn't be "judgmental"; that it is inappropriate to make preliminary judgments about the
    president's conduct because he hasn't been found guilty in a court of law; and so forth.

    If these arguments take root in American soil -- if they become the coin of the public realm -- we
    will have validated them, and we will come to rue the day we did. These arguments define us down;
    they assume a lower common denominator of behavior and leadership than we Americans ought to
    accept. And if we do accept it, we will have committed an unthinking act of moral and intellectual
    disarmament. In the realm of American ideals and the great tradition of public debate, the high
    ground will have been lost. And when we need to rely again on this high ground -- as surely we
    will need to -- we will find it drained of its compelling moral power. In that sense, then, the
    arguments invoked by Bill Clinton and his defenders represent an assault on American ideals, even
    if you assume the president did nothing improper. So the arguments need to be challenged.

    I believe these arguments are also a threat to our understanding of American self-government. It
    demands active participation in, and finally, reasoned judgments on, important civic matters.
    "Judgment" is a word that is out of favor these days, but it remains a cornerstone of democratic
    self-government. It is what enables us to hold ourselves, and our leaders, to high standards. It is
    how we distinguish between right and wrong, noble and base, honor and dishonor. We cannot
    ignore that responsibility, or foist it on others. It is the price -- sometimes the exacting price -- of
    citizenship in a democracy. The most popular arguments made by the president's supporters invite
    us to abandon that participation, those standards, and the practice of making those distinctions.

This is precisely what has happened.  Having refused to judge Bill Clinton for nine years, having refused others the right to judge him, Democrats and their fellow travelers no longer have any moral standing on which to rely when they seek to judge him now.

Bennett systematically annihilates every defense of the President for those earlier offenses and brick by brick builds the case for why a healthy society must not tolerate, and why it is destructive to the culture to excuse, such behavior.  His warning, which unfortunately went unheeded, is now coming back to haunt those who have excused so much on Bill Clinton's part that their current protestations inevitably ring hollow.

It is late February, 2001, as I write this.  Despite a few outright condemnations by former officials like Jimmy Carter and Hamilton Jordan and some general noises of disgust from the rank and file, no major elected Democrat has yet come forth to indict Bill Clinton and his behavior.  But I will predict that, within the next couple of weeks, both Al Gore and Joe Lieberman, and probably John Kerry and Bob Kerrey, will give major speeches in which they cut Bill loose and say that finally he has gone too far.    When that time comes, it will be helpful to recall that following Clinton's impeachment by the House, Al Gore referred to him as "one of our greatest Presidents," and that Lieberman, Kerrey, and Kerry all voted to acquit.  Given the opportunity to root this cancer out of the Presidency and remove him from the body politic, they all took a pass.  It is useless for them to decry that fact that the tumor metastasized.  They and their fellow Democrats were accomplices in Bill Clinton's "assault on American ideals" and, by their inaction, presided over the "death of outrage."   It may be possible to revive the victim--let us hope so--but they are not the ones to do it; they are too deeply implicated in Bill Clinton's reign of crime.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A-)

  

Websites:

See also:

William Bennett (2 books reviewed)
Presidents (Clinton)
Book-related and General Links:
    -BOOKNOTES : Author: William Bennett Title: The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories Air date: January 9, 1994 (C-SPAN)
    -Empower America
    -Heritage Foundation
    -Put Parents in Charge
    -Adventures From The Book Of Virtues Home Page (PBS)
    -EXCERPT : from The Death of Outrage by William J. Bennett
    -INTERVIEW : "Tell Me a Story"  William Bennett, author of The Book of Virtues, explains how simple stories can transform your child's faith (Lisa Jackson, Christianity Today)
    -AUDIO LECTURE : William J. Bennett  Topic: In Defense of Western Civilization (October 22, 1993, Ashbrook Institute)
    -EXCHANGE : An Exchange on Crime and Punishment (Bill Bennett and Chuck Colson, First Things, January 1994)
    -LECTURE : THE STATE, AND FUTURE, OF AMERICAN EDUCATION (WILLIAM J. BENNETT, Heritage)
    -ESSAY : The Real Lessons from Traffic (William Bennett, Washington Post, February 2001)
    -ESSAY : Facing Facts about Alcohol & Crime (William J. Bennett, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : A Lifetime of Lies : It's time to hold Al Gore accountable (William Bennett, October 11, 2000, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : Is Affirmative Action on the Way Out? Should It Be?  (Commentary, March 01 1998)
    -ESSAY : Neuroscience and the Human Spirit. (William J. Bennett, National Review, December 31 1998)
    -ESSAY : COMPLETING THE REAGAN REVOLUTION :  Where Do We Go From Here? (WILLIAM J. BENNETT, Policy Review, 1989)
    -DISCUSSION : The End of Democracy? A Discussion Continued, [ William J. Bennett | Midge Decter | James C. Dobson | Mary Ann Glendon | John Leo | The Editors ] (First Things, Jan. '97)
    -INTERVIEW : State of the Culture : An  interview with  William J. Bennett. (Kathryn Jean Lopez, National Review, March 2001)
    -ESSAY : Neocon v. Theocon : The new fault line on the right (JACOB HEILBRUNN, New Republic, 12.30.96)
    -ARTICLE : EDUCATION; Elementary Curriculum According to Bennett  (New York Times ,  August 31, 1988)
    -PROFILE : "William J. Bennett" (MediaTransparency)
    -ESSAY : CAMPAIGN 2000: Bush-Bennett 2000 (Robert D. Novak, April 3, 2000, National Review)
    -ESSAY : Weather Vain (Michelle Cottle, New Republic)
    -ESSAY :  Bill Bennett and the Cultural-Decline Decline (Timothy Noah, Slate, October 21, 1999)
    -ESSAY :  Hey, Wait a Minute William Bennett, Gays, and the Truth  Mr. Virtue dabbles in phony statistics (Walter Olson, Slate, December 17, 1997 )
    -ESSAY : False Bennett: Gay-Bashing by the Numbers (Andrew Sullivan, New Republic January 5 and 12, 1998)
    -ESSAY : The wages of rage.(outrage, as practiced by William Bennett, James Carville, Larry Flynt, Ross Perot, Jerry Falwell, and others) (John D. Spalding, The Christian Century)
    -ESSAY : Olí Cranky, Bill Bennett, helps to show why most people donít think that impeachment makes sense (Daily Howler)
    -ESSAY : If Bill Bennett would just tell the truth himself, his trademark outrage would be a bit more persuasive (Daily Howler)
    -ARCHIVES : "William J. Bennett" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : Salon Directory | "William Bennett" (Salon)
    -REVIEW : of The Death of Outrage Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals. By William J. Bennett (1998) (Richard L. Berke, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Death of Outrage Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals. By William J. Bennett (1998)  (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Death of Outrage (Matthew Scully, National Review)
    -REVIEW : of Death of Outrage (NICHOLAS LEMANN, The New Republic)
    -REVIEW : of The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals (David Mccabe, Commonweal, November 20 1998)
    -REVIEW : of Death of Outrage (Rushworth Kidder, Institute for Global Ethics)
    -REVIEW : of Death of Outrage (Michael Gerson, US News)
    -REVIEW : of Death of Outrage (Michael Massing, The Nation)
    -REVIEW : of Death of Outrage (Karen Heller, Philadelphia Inquirer)
    -REVIEW : of The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories, edited by William J Bennett (Nick Gillespie, Reason)
    -REVIEW : of The Book of Virtues (Courtney C. Doe, The Orion)
    -REVIEW : of THE BOOK OF VIRTUES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE : A Treasury of Great Moral Stories and THE MORAL COMPASS Stories for a Life's Journey. Edited by  William J. Bennett (1995) (Katherine Paterson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Our Sacred Honor, edited by William Bennett (Roy Maynard, World)
    -INTERVIEW : "The Future of Education in America" An exclusive interview with William Bennett, Ph.D. (hosted by Sue Spataro, HomeSchoolZone)
    -REVIEW : of The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family. By William J. Bennett (The Economist)
    -REVIEW : of The Broken Hearth (YVONNE CRITTENDEN, Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW : of The Broken Hearth by William J. Bennett (WILLIAM MURCHISON / The Dallas Morning News)
    -BOOKLIST : BEST BOOKS LISTED FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS
 

GENERAL :
    -Impeachment Files (Intellectual Capital)
    -House Judiciary Committee Impeachment Hearings Page
    -Washington Post: Clinton Accused
    -ESSAY : The Power of the Powerless  (Vaclav Havel, Translated by Paul Wilson)
    -SYMPOSIUM : Clinton, the Country, and  the Political Culture : A Symposium (Commentary, January 1999)
    -ESSAY : An Era Without Honor (James Bowman, New Criterion)
    -LECTURE : How the New Elite Is Changing American Culture (David Brooks, Bradley Lecture delivered at the American Enterprise Institute, May 8, 2000)
    -ESSAY : The New Upper Class (David Brooks, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY : Support of Clinton as a sign that humanity has improved (JOSEPH SPEAR, NEA Features )

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