I wanted to stay far, far away from commenting on the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, because I knew that the double standard of media scrutiny of the deceit and dishonesty there ( in contrast to the media’s adversary stance during the Republican convention) would drive me to drink if I thought about it long enough to write coherently. And so I shall stay away, except for this one infuriating topic, which is broader and more significant than the convention itself.
No political party that cares sufficiently about the ethical values of integrity and honesty, as well as responsible leadership, would feature Bill Clinton as its “rock star” speaker. That the Democrats did, and that the media and the public generally gave them a pass for doing so, confirms that Clinton’s corrupting influence on the American culture continues. Recent polls indicate that he is the most popular political figure in the country today, and Democrats will no doubt cite that as justification for inviting him to speak. To the contrary, it shows the damage that he has done to the values of the nation, and how wrong the Democratic party has been to aid and abet that damage.
Bill gave a good speech, as he usually does. There is no way to know how much of it he believes or meant, for Clinton is a recreational liar: he likes lying. He’s good at it, and he does it at every opportunity. In 2008, on The Ethics Scoreboard, the slower and more formal predecessor to this blog, I made Clinton the first (and as it turned out, sole) admittee to the David Manning Liar of the Month Hall of Fame, writing in part that…
“…from this point on, the former President and current First Spouse hopeful is exempt from competition for the Ethics Scoreboard’s Liar of the Month title. It’s just too easy for him. Clinton’s facility with the unnecessary and blatantly obvious lie first came to national attention when he famously declared that he “didn’t inhale” when he smoked pot as a college student. The many silly and trivial lies that have followed were occasionally punctuated by serious whoppers, such as his perjury in the Paula Jones trial and “I did not have sex with that woman,” but they don’t figure in the Hall of Fame voting. No, the comments that have enshrined Bill Clinton are those like this month’s statement on the campaign trail that Hillary has done very well in the primaries so far when one considers that she is “operating on a shoestring.” This is a masterpiece of silly lying. Hillary Clinton has raised more money than any of the presidential candidates of either party, 140 million dollars. This is a matter of public record. Now, for most Liars of the Month winners, this kind of statement would represent the pinnacle of blatant lying, a career zenith. But not Bill Clinton: this is a way of life for him. Truth, lies, half-lies, deceit…all are just interchangeable tactics according to a grand-master’s careful calculation of the benefits of fooling a target audience for just long enough to get a desired result.”
Clinton also gave a selfish and self-indulgent speech, reportedly exceeding the scripted version by almost 40% and pushing all other speakers later into the evening’s program. These qualities—inflated self-importance, lack of respect and consideration for others, and shamelessness—are other traits of the political sociopath, as is Clinton’s undeniable charm. As a sociopathic leader, he is a stunning success. His smug demeanor and chipper cockiness at the podium is that of a cheater who got everything he wanted, and regrets nothing. Clinton sent so many unethical messages by his presence in a prime time slot at the convention that it would take a tome to detail them all. They begin with “the ends justify the means.” Others include “Don’t let them tell you otherwise: cheating works,” “You can lie your way out of trouble, if you’re a good enough liar,” “Power justifies everything,” “Rules are for suckers” and “You can fool most of the people all of the time.” There are more.
The Democrats have either swallowed the myth that Clinton was good for the country or just knowingly facilitate it. Had it not been for Bill’s lies about Monica Lewinsky and the related cover-up, Al Gore would have breezed to the Presidency. Had Clinton resigned, as he should have and as an honorable man with the best interests of the nation at heart would have, Gore would have won even more easily, as the incumbent. Instead, to protect himself against the rightful consequences of his own conduct, Clinton required staffers and cabinet members to assist in his cover-up. While he should have been focusing all of his attentions on the growing threat of Osama bin Laden, he was mounting legal challenges to the investigation that significantly reduced the ability of future presidents to receive privileged legal advice. He actively obstructed the investigation (I believe infatuated Monica took the hit for him by swearing that she was the sole author of the false affidavit Linda Tripp was asked to sign) to a degree far worse than what got Scooter Libby convicted and jailed. The hyper-partisanship that corrodes our political process today had its origins in the “they’re out to get me” strategy Clinton masterfully executed, exemplified by loyal, betrayed Hillary Clinton’s “vast right wing conspiracy” explanation for the charges that 1) were true and 2) that she almost certainly knew were true.
Perhaps more damaging than Clinton’s conduct were the unethical messages and arguments his surrogates, lawyer Lanny Davis and others, flooded the talk shows and news shows with to keep public opinion supporting the poor, sexy, charming, persecuted President. They were the catalyst for my first ethics blog, for I was shocked at how invalid rationalizations were dominating the discussion. “Everybody does it!‘, used to excuse a President lying under oath, a bright line violation of his Oath of Office, because “everybody lies about sex.” “They did it too!,” citing actual and rumored sexual infidelities by past Presidents to minimize Clinton’s conduct, though had most of the actual affairs being cited been publicized at the time they occurred, those Presidents ( especially Kennedy) would have been impeached as well. “The King’s Pass,” claiming that Clinton was too important to hold to the standards of ordinary mortals. “It’s not the worst thing,” arguing that Clinton’s conduct didn’t reach the level of corruption of President Richard Nixon.* “Everybody makes mistakes,” as if a contrived cover-up of courtroom perjury and a months long workplace affair was “one mistake.” There were others. Lawyers, ministers, celebrities and elected leaders echoed these toxic excuses for Bill’s unethical conduct over and over again for months, rotting the public’s ethical instincts, all so he could get away with it. It worked, too. The Senate is a political body, and as long as the public had a high opinion of Clinton, it was never going to find him guilty of the House’s charges. If the President of the United States had to teach the country that lying under oath, having an adulterous sexual affair with an employee, lying to the public about it and impeding the justice system is acceptable, then so be it: the ends justify the means, of course.
For Bill Clinton, who violated the sexual harassment law he himself signed and was hailed by the women’s movement for signing, to be the featured speaker at a Democratic convention celebrating women’s rights, was hypocrisy and cynicism of the highest order. (It was only somewhat lessened by the earlier hypocrisy of the convention honoring the late Ted Kennedy, whose tenure in the Senate was entirely attributable to an effective cover-up of his responsibility for the death of a young women, who drowned in his car, as Teddy sobered up and consulted with lawyers and political advisors. As James Taranto says, Mary Jo Kopechne was unavailable for comment.) It was Clinton who corrupted the women’s movement, which had properly made the case that when a boss has a sexual affair with a subordinate, there can be no “consent” because of the disparity in power. Suddenly Gloria Steinem and other supposed feminists were abandoning their principles to provide cover for Clinton. It was disgusting. But that’s Bill—a real charmer with the ladies.
Yes, Bill gets ratings, the news media licks his boots, he raises money and can stir up the crowd. That was enough, apparently, for the Democrats to justify celebrating a man who disgraced the office of the President, corrupted the ethics of a generation and has never apologized for either. And, after all, it worked.
As Bill Clinton will be the first to tell you, that’s all that matters.
* I would argue, however, that while the Watergate scandal in the end was good for the country, Clinton’s scandal continues to harm it.
Graphic: Bliss Tree