by David Sisler

Personal responsibility and enforceable standards of behavior seem to be equal themes of President Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party these days: establish national tests for students; if you are going to receive welfare you will have to work for it; if you do the crime, you will do the time. But within recent days we heard fresh allegations that the man who six years ago dodged questions about his moral conduct, is subject to no standards other than his own.

In the wake of the latest Clinton administration scandal, the president's supporters seem to be suggesting that the whole affair if indeed there was an affair be discounted for the good of the country. Many are intimating that if this latest scandal does bring Clinton down, the waves will ripple far beyond him to the presidency itself. "Any assault on a president deepens public cynicism about politics and politicians in general," says Robert Dallek, a presidential historian, who teaches at Boston University.

To such excuses and continuing attempts to evade the issue of character, questions must be asked. Should not the man who holds the highest office in our nation be held to the highest standards? Should not the commander in chief be held to the same standard as an Army drill instructor?

At every opportunity to take the high road and lead with principle, this president and his administration have taken the low road. Questions about campaign finance laws, obtaining FBI files for dubious purposes, taking bribes, lying under oath have all bombarded our national conscience until the sleaze factor has produced a hard callous where a soft blister used to be.

As the names of Monkia Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, Kathleen Willey, Sally Perdue, and Dolly Kyle Browning have been linked to Bill Clinton, countless people have said character does not matter a person's private life, even the president's should be private. The ferocity with which the press is covering this story suggests that we may at last have discovered that character is the only thing which does matter.

Paul A. Gigot, writing for The Wall Street Journal says, "This is no simple case of adultery." He points to possible charges which could be raised if the president instructed Lewinsky to lie or if the president, himself, committed perjury. Lying under oath, it seems, may be a more serious crime than lying under pressure.

Adultery may not be an impeachable offense. Perjury and suborning perjury definitely are. But the issue of adultery goes deeper to the heart of the issue of character.

In 1992, as Bill Clinton began his first race for the presidency in the snows of New Hampshire, he was confronted with the accusation that he had carried on an "affair" for twelve years. On "60 Minutes," questioned by Steve Kroft, Mr. Clinton would only admit that he had done great harm to his marriage. Re-reading those old news reports today I find one word rarely used: "adultery."

Adultery the violation of the closest relationship possible between two human beings is covered up, given a pretty face, and presented as tolerable, by using the word "affair."

When Air Force 1st Lieutenant Kelly J. Flinn, the service's first female B-52 pilot, resigned her commission after admitting to committing adultery, Daniel Schorr, a commentator on "All Things Considered" said, it is time for our society to "get adult about adultery." (Mr. Schorr, you will remember, arranged for publication of the advance copy of a confidential House of Representatives document he had exclusively obtained a document the House had voted not to release. This led to his suspension by his then employer, CBS television.) Concerning Kelly Flinn, Mr. Schorr did not elaborate on the specifics of a code of honor that would allow you cheat on your spouse without also defrauding your country.

Joel Belz, writing in World Magazine last year reminds us, "God himself still uses rules. Always, he wants us to remember that rule-keeping doesn't make us good enough for him. But that doesn't mean there's no place for rule-keeping. Rules protect us, and society, from our worst excesses. Rules remind us, and society, what God's perfections are like."

Sylvia Remm, a psychologist in Cleveland and the author of Smart Parenting was asked what parents could do if their youngsters picked up the morning newspaper and wondered about the headlines and the president's alleged adultery. She said, "You can refer to the Ten Commandments and tell them it's wrong. But some people do have relationships out of marriage and they hurt people. And if it's true, it was the wrong thing for the president to do."

A young leader once told Jesus that he had kept all of the commandments, beginning with the days of his youth. Jesus told him that his inside condition was still imperfect. That is where God's wondrous grace comes in. For Bill Clinton. For me. For you.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 1/31/98

Copyright 1998 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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