Tuesday, July 27, 2004

William J. and the Moral Imperative

I didn't see former President Bill Clinton's address before the Democratic National Convention Monday night, but I heard it on the radio on the way to chorus rehearsal. You've got to admit, the old dog still has the magic.

I routinely take flak, particularly from my conservative religious friends (who constitute, now that I think about it, the overwhelming majority of my religious friends), for my unabashed admission that I voted for Bill Clinton twice. In fact, the primary reason I didn't vote for him three times is the 22nd Amendment, which prohibits a President from running for the office more than twice. There are two reasons why I did vote for Clinton twice: (1) I happen to think he was a very good President; and (2) there's no way I'd have voted for any of the men who opposed him.

People ask me, "But how could you vote for someone who committed the immoral acts Clinton did?" Well, let's not get relativistic about this. Everyone I've ever voted for has committed immoral acts. So did everyone for whom I didn't vote. Were I running for office, and people voted for me, they would be voting for a man who has, at various weak moments in his life, committed acts that were immoral. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," the Scripture says. I've never done the specific deed Clinton did, and what wrongs I have done I try not to make a practice of repeating, but if I permit myself to vote only for a person who's never done anything immoral, my ballot's going to remain blank every Election Day.

That's neither justifying nor excusing what Clinton did in the Monica Lewinski matter, and the Gennifer Flowers matter before that, and any other similar matters there may have been. It's simply a recognition that moral perfection isn't a realistic criterion for the job under consideration. Jimmy Carter was probably as decent a resident as the White House has ever had, and the verdict on the ineptitude of his administration is resoundingly unanimous. I admire Carter a great deal for his post-Presidential career as a humanitarian, but I wouldn’t vote for him to be President again. Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton were scoundrels, but they both made pretty fair Presidents. Is that fair? No, but then, what is?

It doesn't devalue morality to acknowledge that it isn't a measure of suitability for most forms of secular work. It's a measure of something altogether different. In the best of all possible worlds, would it be better that the most competent people for every job were also the most morally upright? Of course it would. But we don't live in that world.

Given two candidates of equal competence, one of whom is a "good person" and the other of whom is...well...not, certainly any wise voter would choose the moral individual. But if the choice is between a supremely capable person with character weaknesses that perhaps only obliquely reflect upon his or her performance of the job, and a clean-living Boy or Girl Scout who's a hapless bungler, it seems obvious to me that one grits one's teeth and chooses the former. The fact of the matter is, we never get a choice like that anyway. Selecting between politicians is always a choice between two relative evils. The question then becomes, which evil is most likely to do the better job, or at least wreak the least havoc?

Maybe it will help to view this principle in a different context. When KJ was diagnosed with cancer and needed complex surgery, I didn't spend much time — okay, any time — reviewing the personal peccadilloes of the surgeon. What he did outside the operating room, while certainly of eternal consequence as far as his soul is concerned, had little, if anything, to do with his ability to save my wife’s life. All that mattered in that context was that he was one of the best surgeons in our area, and an expert in the procedure KJ needed. Now let's say it's your loved one on the operating table. Which surgeon do you choose: the exceptionally talented physician who's an expert in the required procedure, but who also chases the skirt of every nurse in the hospital, or the dedicated family man who never looks lustfully at any woman except his wife, but whose last three patients died as a result of his malpractice? There's only one answer to that question that makes any sense at all.

My point is that the President and the surgeon are no different. May God grant that both be morally pure and righteous. But if not, then may He at a minimum grant that both execute their respective jobs at a level that benefits the common (secular) good. In my opinion, Bill Clinton did that. He's been the only genuine centrist in the White House in my lifetime, and he presided over eight years of booming national economy and relative domestic tranquility. Not that everything that contributed to those factors was his doing, certainly, but the end result is the same.

I wouldn't want Bill Clinton serving as the preacher or an elder in my local church, and I wouldn't want my daughter to serve on his staff. But I don't regret that I voted for him. I didn’t tell him to grope the hired help, and it's not my fault that he did — if he’d asked me, I’d have said, “Don’t,” but he didn’t ask me. I only asked him to run the country competently, and he did that. Do I wish he hadn't also done stupid, ungodly stuff that embarrassed the nation, not to mention his family? Of course I do. But at least his stupid, ungodly stuff only destroyed his own reputation and one young woman's, not the lives of thousands of American men and women. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for his successor.

0 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Post a Comment

<< Home