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That outrageous speech

President Clinton’s shameless speech to the nation this week was
outrageous in many ways, but near the top of the list was his brazen
declaration that the entire Lewinsky matter is a “private” concern. Of
course, preserving respect for the authentic distinction between the
public and private spheres is one of the prerequisites for the
preservation of liberty itself. But frequently in our time the appeal to
privacy is simply the claim to the license to behave as one pleases,
without regard for moral standards or any of the many very real
connections that bind us to the people around us.

The appeal to privacy to justify the murder of the unborn is an
example of the licentious claim to privacy. And so, as a moment’s
thought makes clear, is the president’s attempt to sweep the whole
tangled mess he has made for himself and us into a place exempt from
public view.

Part of being an adult is understanding and accepting that the
choices we make establish moral and other kinds of relations with other
people — relations that can attach so deeply to us that they become
inescapable. As long as young people are merely dating, for example,
they have a “relationship” that they can simply put aside, if they
decide to. But when they marry, they establish a relationship that
follows them wherever they go, and from that moment on is part of who
and what they are. There is no “private” place to which a married person
can go to recover the condition of freedom that was left behind at the
altar. Adults who treat marriage like a kind of dating are acting like
children — denying their own capacity to make the deep moral choices
that really “sink in” and transform us.

When he became president, Bill Clinton willingly accepted the burden
of bearing in his person the full reality of a branch of the federal
government of the United States of America. This is not a ceremonial
role that exists for eight hours a day and can be taken off like an
employee uniform after work. He is never “off duty”; the safety of the
Republic depends on it.

Being the president of the United States cannot be a feature of Bill
Clinton only while he sits in a certain room, or does certain things, or
only when he feels like it. It must be a reality that sinks deeply into
the man at the moment he takes the oath of office — the office is a
burden that he must carry from that moment until it passes
constitutionally from his shoulders.

Bill Clinton’s claim to reserve his behavior with Monica Lewinsky to
some private place where he is not president epitomizes his failure to
accept the reality of all the connections that define who and what he
is. It has been clear for some time that he believes that his condition
as husband is one that he can simply put aside when he feels like it.
Now we have his explicit — in fact, insistent — demand that he be
permitted to be president only when he feels like it. This is indeed a
culminating abdication, requiring the simultaneous use of all the escape
hatches that substitute for his character.

Perhaps the case can be made that the precisely defined act of
adultery is primarily an offense against his wife and daughter, and thus
chiefly an evil that is private to them. But the concentric circles of
implication and deed that have surrounded that act extend to the
American people and beyond. Clinton’s ill-tempered demand that we let
him simply shut the door and be by himself shows that he ultimately
believes that none of his relationships are really more than skin deep.

His adultery is not only an offense against his wife and child. It is
also an offense against the moral duty that obliges us all to do what we
can to sustain and strengthen the public institution of marriage. Every
member of this society is bound in justice to contribute to the
sustenance of this institution, and by treating his very public adultery
as none of our business, Clinton shirks his duty as a fellow member of
the society.

His willingness to abuse his closest friends, advisers, subordinates,
and supporters into sharing the lie and spending their own honor and
reputation to defend what he always knew to be a lie reveals that he
doesn’t think that any of those relationships — friendship, leadership,
partnership, political alliance — are really binding conditions that
restrain his licentious freedom. Members of the famously varied and
extensive circle of “Friends of Bill” have learned suddenly that
friendship is, for Bill, like the lizard’s tail — it has its uses, and
one of the chief ones is how easily it can be left behind in a snare; a
new one can always be grown.

His now obvious perjury is an offense against the law, and his
defiant refusal to face this fact is one of many indications that he
sees his duties of citizenship — of which duties obedience to the law
is primary — as no more deep or permanent than his marriage. Here
again, he acts and speaks as though a relationship that is near the core
of our temporal existence — citizenship — is a part-time and
whimsically disposable charade. Why did he put aside his duty as an
American to respect the justice system by telling the truth? He
considers it an adequate explanation for his lying to say that certain
pressures emerged in the course of his testimony, and that he did what
he had to do.

Wrapped around this onion of false connections, merely apparent
relations, and expendable identities, we see the very loose-fitting
garment of the presidency. Bill Clinton likes to wear it, and he likes
to use it. What he apparently doesn’t even begin to understand is that
the presidency is not something to wear, but to be. Fulfilling the
office of president — really “being” president — requires a
deliberate, focused and unremitting effort of soul to take seriously the
whole complex of relations that constitute the federal government and
the American regime as a whole. It is dangerously naive to believe that
a man can really fulfill this “office” — the word, at root, means
“duty” — when he is habitually and temperamentally inclined to resist
letting any human connection constrain him unless he so wills.

This naivete has been pawned off on us for some time now by those who
have denied that what they call “private morality” has any bearing on a
person’s fitness for public office. A more convincing refutation of this
view than the events of the past seven months is hard to imagine. A bad
man will be a bad president, because only a good man will really want to
be a good president,
and be willing to pay the price. Bill Clinton appears to have spent his
adult life preparing to refuse to pay it.

Everything about Bill Clinton cooperates to make it clear to us that
he will not permit himself to be changed by his duty so that he can
fulfill it. Rather, he will do what is necessary to change his duty so
that he can use it. He is resolutely determined to deflect the demands
of every duty from
infringing on the “private” realm of his will. And we should realize
that the will of such a man can extend to very vigorous designs on the
nation, its people, and their liberty. What is a tyrant, after all, but
a man who ultimately desires to make the whole world into his place of
private and
uninhibited play?

Impeachment is the proper remedy when a man fails to fulfill the
office — the duty — of the presidency. If the Congress is willing to
be the Congress, and not retreat into its own “private” realm of
electoral calculation, it must move forward now to impeach this man who
refuses to be president. And while the particular grounds for that
impeachment are many and growing, the
overarching reason that he must be removed from office is much like the
reason given for the annulment of a marriage — we have learned beyond
doubt that he never intended for the union of man and office to take
place. Bill Clinton has made the presidency his concubine. What does
that make us?

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