Unsure how to judge the Bush administration? Read former US Representative Bob Barr’s book on the Clinton administration.
Bob Barr is an unusual person, a prosecutor who cares about civil liberty. Barr served four terms (1995—2003) as a Republican congressman from Georgia. He was one of the more intelligent members of the House.
Barr is old-fashioned in the sense that he has an idealistic view of government. To Barr’s mind, government is not about ego, prestige, and how the pie is divided. Government is about doing the right thing and serving the country’s best interest. Barr believes President Bill Clinton failed in this task, and he is unapologetic about leading the movement to impeach President Clinton.
In his newly published book, The Meaning of Is, Barr’s provides his account of the impeachment and failed conviction of President Clinton. Barr’s use of language creates the impression that he is writing in the spirit of a very partisan Republican. In truth, Barr’s choice of words reflects his disappointment in the integrity of government. As a constitutionalist, he has no home in either party.
Barr writes that Clinton escaped justice because Republicans thought Clinton was more valuable to them in office with wounds that would drag down the Democratic nominee in the next election. Barr believes that the Republicans’ failure to do their duty corrupted the party. He writes:
"By the end of the Clinton administration, the Republican Party — with a handful of exceptions — was just as unprincipled as Bill Clinton. We had absorbed his political tactics so completely that we did not even seem to remember a time when we had acted any differently. If Diogenes had wandered the streets of Washington circa 1999 looking for a principled man, his search would have been [as unsuccessful as] his attempt to find an honest man in Athens in ancient Greece. They existed, but their number was so few that the poor philosopher would have had to wander for years to expect a chance encounter with one. And, when he did succeed, as likely as not it would be because he found a hardworking person from real America who was walking down the street in search of a gift for their grandkids after visiting the Smithsonian."
Barr is convinced that Clinton did great damage to the country and its security. Barr makes a strong argument. However, to anyone who has paid attention to the lies and deception used by the Bush administration to take us to war against Iraq, and to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s war against our civil liberties, Clinton’s reign seems innocuous.
By helping us revisit Clinton’s transgressions, Barr unintentionally enables us to judge the deterioration in Oval Office behavior under Bush.
Lying about a sexual affair is just not on the same scale as lying about war.
The petty penny ante real estate deal known as Whitewater pales into insignificance compared to the multi-billion dollar fraud of the Iraqi reconstruction contracts.
Charges of election fund-raising irregularities take a back seat to charges of using the Supreme Court to steal the Florida electoral vote.
This is not to argue that Clinton should be excused. It is to say that matters have become worse.
Barr is right that sex with Monica was the least of it and that Republicans saved Clinton by reducing his transgressions to this one issue. This simply could not be a damning matter with a population accustomed to casual sex and unfaithful marriages. According to polls, fully half of married men and women have been sexually unfaithful to their spouses.
Republicans should have noted that President John F. Kennedy remains a political icon although he certainly out-womanized Clinton.
The notion of powerful men as womanizers and sexual predators is suspect on its face. The desire for top bragging rights that come from sleeping with powerful men makes women equally responsible.
Some years ago a female journalist at the Washington Times told the story of being at a gathering of women journalists during the Kennedy administration. In walked a beaming blond newswoman, who proudly announced, "I’ve just come from the bed of the President!"
If anything, Clinton showed restraint. This is especially the case if Republican stories are true that Hillary had to issue orders to shameless White House female staffers not to show up for work without their knickers on.
Barr believes that truth matters. If he is correct, George W. Bush is in for a hard time.
Dr. Roberts [send him mail] is John M. Olin Fellow at the Institute for Political Economy and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. He is a former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal and a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury. He is the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.