Politics & Policy

Swallow That Tiger; Please, Hold The Compassion; Boomer Morality


It appears that the Republican fire-sale of principle is continuing unabated. The Washington Post’s lead editorial points out that a lack of resolve after the election reveals more than a smattering of dishonesty about Republican principle prior to it. I can’t argue. Calvin Coolidge once said that “One with the law is a majority.” This is more than a mere high-fallutin’ one-liner. The law represents the accumulated wisdom and experience of our ancestors. Yesterday’s generations vote through today’s law. If we think the Constitution is merely a useful political cudgel we shouldn’t have one at all.

Henry Hyde is trying his best in what must be an insane political environment (Geraldo has already declared Hyde’s questions a “perjury trap”). But asking only for Ken Starr to testify is a mistake. Yes, Starr should speak out, but so should the rest of the gang. I still think Monica’s lying about the obstruction, etc. The other side think Linda Tripp and my mother plotted to tear down the Clinton Administration. If Bill Clinton and his amen choir think he’s been “set up,” then let’s hash that out in the open, too. If the House is to vote for articles of impeachment then Americans should see for themselves who is credible and who is not. We owe it to history.

The hand-wringers say that full-blown hearings would be too much of a distraction. Bunk. America can walk and chew gum at the same time. As Eugene McCarthy once said, this country can choke on a gnat but it can swallow tigers whole. President Clinton, who has claimed all along he has not been distracted by this scandal, says the voters want us to return to the work of the American people. So where is he returning from? Let’s get real closure on this thing so we can all move on.


It’s already begun. Compassion is the new buzzword. George W. championed his new breed of “compassionate” conservatism in a victory speech which barely disguised his announcement that he was running for President. John Kasich is in contention for a House leadership position because he is “compassionate.” Compassion is nice for motorists with flat tires on the side of the highway and for peasants who have mistakenly splattered the king with mud. But conservatism is a limited political philosophy which calls for the rest of the society — churches, schools, even local governments — to come up with compassion. As it is now being used in national politics, compassion really means bending the rules; it calls for moderating what’s right. Sure Democrats have made a lot of hay in casting Newt et. al. as mean. Sure, they’ve figured out that every new federal program passes a market test if its aimed at “helping the children.” But that’s all spin and drivel. Conservatives want bright lines, clear rules, and limited opportunities for government to expand its mission. Business looks to sustain long-term profitability and churches want to save souls and help the unfortunate. And government shouldn’t get in their way unless there’s a compelling one-time-only reason. The Founders believed that character was formed through the guidance of social institutions. Government should let those institutions fulfil their missions, not appropriate them. The task for conservatives is to explain why this approach is what’s really best for society. What is really not compassionate is when government — acting on limited information and ideological agendas — sends the signal that certain groups or interests are more worthy of compassion, tolerance, protection, etc. Pretty soon, all you’re left with is a philosophy of gaming the system. If this sound a little meaner than the pabulum that comes out of a Party that “feels our pain” that’s nothing new. As Emerson once observed, “There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.” I’ll stick with mean facts over wishfully thought falsehoods any day.


In that vein, if for marketing purposes conservatives want to wrap their steely facts in skeins of velvety compassion, it’s fine by me (but that isn’t what’s going on right now). David Frum has written an excellent op-ed in today’s New York Times explaining, among other things, why Republicans should do precisely that. Successful parties convert people, they don’t convert themselves into an incarnation of polling data.


Today’s “Reliable Source” (the gossip page of the Washington Post), reveals an interesting trend: Boomer morality. One item covers how Dr. Laura Schlessinger had a “heart to heart” with her listeners over the recent release of nudie pictures of her on the Internet. “In my twenties, I was my own moral authority.” She has seen the light of living by strict standards of right and wrong. Once an atheist, she has become an observant Jew. Right next to that item is a picture of Sharon Stone with the following quote: “I’ve really given up my life to God, and I know that’s why I’m okay and at peace.” In fact, vignettes like these are becoming more and more frequent in the entertainment press. Madonna, Roseanne (Barr), and quite a few others have renounced the sexual escapades that marked their earlier incarnations. Unfortunately, most celebrity religion is really touchy-feely spirituality (obviously not in Schelssinger’s case). But it is interesting that more and more former champions of “whatever floats your boat” sexuality are changing their tune. They may not be ready to judge other people’s morality but they’ve certainly reevaluated their own.


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