Thanks to the Constitution's 22nd Amendment, on January 20, 2001, we will be spared the ongoing debauchery of arguably the most depraved and destructive United States President in recent memory, perhaps in the history of the office of the Presidency. Bill Clinton's depraved antics should not bring to memory Richard Nixon, who was a big-time liar and small-time crook, like a number of other United States Presidents. Clinton, by contrast, the epitome of the postmodernist politician, has crafted political depravity into an art form. Clinton transcends the classification as political sinner; he is a principled antinomian lawless man. In three distinct ways he has altered for the foreseeable future the entire political process and landscape.
"Private" versus "Public"
First, Clinton has chiseled out a gaping chasm between so-called "private" morality and "public" performance. He did not accomplish this all by himself, of course, because without the eager assistance of an amoral consumerist capitalism, there is no way he could have pulled this off. Almost the entire culture has shed the Biblical requirement of God-fearing morality in its political leaders (Dt. 17:14-20) and has replaced it with the model of the smooth, corporate executive, about whose personal depravity we needn't trifle. The Bible lays down clear prohibitions and penalties against sins which today are considered the area of "private" morality adultery and homosexuality, for instance. This is because God's plan is a covenantal, communal society, not an individualistic one. This covenantalism is designed to operate in terms of the Faith, secured by individual, family, and church government, not by a coercive state. Morality in the Bible is regulated almost exclusively by non-coercive governments in other words, not by the state. Ironically, in our postmodern world, the state adopts its own secular and humanistic morality, which forbids the non-coercive enforcement of morality by these other governments. The state develops its own (im)morality, which it coercively imposes.
Clintonization is a prime example. It has expunged a devout concern for Christian morality as it relates to a society and culture, and particularly in politics, while gradually targeting organizations and institutions like the Boy Scouts that wish to maintain a semblance of Christian morality. In the near future, leading politicians may be murderers, liars, rapists, and thugs, just as long as they are successful bureaucratic executives. Depraved expressions describing Clinton's horrid adultery with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office expressions previously taboo on TV news broadcasts are now incorporated into the vocabulary of grade-school children. This is the case of letting the proverbial cat out of the bag, or, to switch metaphors, slicing the feather pillow in the wind once it is done, it is done. It will require several generations to reverse this evil trend. No successful bureaucratic executive who brings Christian morality to bear upon social and cultural ("public") issues need apply, of course. Clinton has helped install the New Public Immorality. Morality is for private life only; immorality, by contrast, is for the public sphere as long as it is accompanied by bureaucratic efficiency.
Second, Clinton has transformed the politics of our constitutional republic into a cynical, scorched-earth power grab. Clinton and hotshot political operatives like Dick Morris and Paul Begala have, shall we say, politicized politics. They have removed every last vestige of statesmanship and high principle and have replaced it with the destructive tactics of win at any cost, "rip your opponent's lungs out," adopt your opponent's position in order to get elected, employ the coercive arm of the state to destroy your political opponent, use lying legalese to get away with perjury, obstruct justice to save face, and reinvent yourself whenever a breathless populace begins to catch up to your debauched shenanigans. Gone is any sense of magnanimity, of statesmen who act for causes bigger than themselves, for the good of the nation. As E. Michael Jones perceptively noted, Bill Clinton, like Ahab of the Old Testament, was willing to bring down an entire country down in order to make a point. (This is the President whose White House aids actually hired a Norwegian public relations firm to get him the Nobel Peace Prize!) The honorable and just and wise politics of Biblical figures like Moses (Ex.32:32) and Solomon (1 Kin. 3:16-28) is gone. Gone too is the Christian statesmanship of George Washington in our own country, Southern Confederate Robert E. Lee, Abraham Kuyper in Holland, and even American Presidents of highly questionable Christian commitment like Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan. Magnanimous statesmanship has been subverted by cutthroat cynicism. This is the dire legacy of Clintonization.
The Political Debasement of the Faith
Third, and perhaps most grievous of all, Clinton has bequeathed to future generations and to the country as a whole the political debasement of Christianity. It is important to distinguish this from the actions of previous Presidents, who claimed to be Christian and who merely did not live up to their profession. This would include everyone from Ulysses S. Grant to George Bush, Sr. With Clinton, we have an entirely different element (though Jimmy Carter laid the groundwork for this prostitution). Clinton actually employed his Christian profession as a tool to advance his anti-Christian agenda. Speaking last summer on the platform of Bill Hybels' breezy, evangelical Willow Creek Church, for example, Clinton admitted (finally) that he had sinned and "made mistakes," but, like on several other occasions, immediately turned his guns on Republicans (and others) who had exposed his errors. Hybels, Tony Campolo, and other ecclesiastical prostitutes (good evangelicals all) eagerly furnished the Philanderer-in-Chief a Christian platform from which to launch his spurious repentance and accompanying attacks on just and responsible individuals who called him to account. After much public outcry, but most notably only after a blood test conclusively proving his multiple adulteries, Clinton finally acknowledged he had sinned with an intern not much older than his own daughter. Unlike David of old when confronted with a similar sin (2 Sam. 12:1-13), he hedged on his public confession, relied on the legal cynicism of his attorneys, and piously coveted prayer from his fawning evangelical supporters, all the while depicting himself as the stumbling Christian mercilessly victimized by vindictive politicos. Previous Presidents employed Christianity as a civil religion by which to provide a measure of cover for their supposed moral stature. Clinton, by contrast, attempted to reshape what it means to be a Christian President a President should be permitted to commit the most heinous sins, but just as long as he eventually acknowledges them grudgingly, he should immediately be forgiven and permitted to revile his accusers, who did nothing other than follow the normal process of law in calling him to account for his sins and crimes. Clinton is an antinomian pietist to the core, antinomian pietism meaning high-sounding gush that is preferable to simple obedience. Clinton has elevated this antinomian pietism to the highest echelon of American civil government. The evangelical pietists, many of whom voted for Clinton, finally got Their Man in Office; and he acted quite in line with their principles, that is to say, their lack of principles: adherence to God's law is not important; sinning feverishly while mouthing pious platitudes will suffice.
In these three chief ways, Bill Clinton has polluted the atmosphere of American politics for decades to come. Feel free to express gratitude to all the professed "born-again" Christians who voted for him . . . . twice.
December 6, 2000
P. Andrew Sandlin is Executive Vice President of the Chalcedon Foundation which since 1965 has been dedicated to applying historic, Biblical Christianity in today's world. He is the author of Christianity: Bulwark of Liberty and several other works.