The Carter, er, Clinton, honeymoon is over, so far as Fm concerned. Even before his inauguration, Bill Clinton had exhausted our patience with his reckless comments on throwing the doors open to AIDS-carrying Haitians and admitting sodomites into the military. The sociopaths of the American press were in ecstasy, now that they had the chance to talk about buggery, day in and day out.
Before and after the election, I met a number of otherwise ordinary people who voted for Clinton. By ordinary, I mean straight white males (and their womenfolk) with no obvious deformities to qualify them for government subsidy. Some were speculators in real estate or the market and justified their vote on practical grounds: it will be easier for them to make money with double-digit inflation. Others said vague things like “It’s time for a change,” or Bush reneged on his pledge not to raise taxes. The same people would have huzzahed when Rehoboam told the Jews: “My father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.” If a man had the resources of Terry Southern’s Magic Christian, he could do worse than to devote the next four years to rubbing the noses of Clinton’s SWM supporters in the dirt their President will be wallowing in. It will almost be worth the misery just to listen to them grumble about high taxes, inflation, homosexual schoolteachers, the Third World invasion, and an orgy of quotas and preferential hiring that will not quite satisfy Jesse Jackson.
In the GOP version of recent history, the election of Bill Clinton is a tragic peripeteia. After all, their Presidents won the Cold War, put America back to war, crushed the Bully of Baghdad, and what is their reward? Fo be turned out of office as soon as the people thought it was safe to elect a Democrat. It’s Clemenceau and Churchill all over again.
An old order is giving way, but it is not exclusively or even primarily Republican. Bush was the last President to have served in World War II and probably the last President who can even remember it, while Bill Clinton is the first President to be known publicly as an adulterer and a shirker, the proverbial liberal who would not take his country’s side in war. Clinton is an Alcibiades without genius, a Catiline without guts.
Our decline in national character is not exactly unprecedented. If the early years of a republic arc marked by virtuous citizen-soldiers—Aristides the Just, Cincinnatus, and George Washington—in their decline nations arc ruled by hypocrites like Pericles, Sulla, and Franklin Roosevelt. But in the last phase, when empire is an acknowledged fact, the divine ruler is revered for his unbridled potency. Alexander, so the story went, burnt Persepolis to please his whore; Julius Caesar was “every woman’s husband and every man’s wife.” But this much can be said of Julius: he insisted that his wife be above suspicion. Would “Champ” Clinton even care?
If the character of a nation is defined by the character of its rulers, then the new royal family is a frightening mirror of what we have turned into, all of us. Even the older generation, schooled in the more gentile hypocrisy, accepts the new status quo. The outgoing President, no Cato the Younger, rested his case on passage of the Disabilities Act and support for AIDS research. To many Americans the President was just Bill Clinton with arthritis. He couldn’t run as fast, but he was going in the same direction. If only he had said, at that fateful moment in the first debate, “Yes, Governor Clinton, I am questioning your patriotism,” if George Bush had made just that token gesture of hypocrisy toward the figment of republican virtue, he would have earned my vote and deserved the support of honorable men and women. But if he could have even read such an answer off the cue cards, he would not have been George Bush.