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Why are so many Republicans, including a number of so-called conservatives, acting as if the important goal we face in the impeachment process is to discover an “exit strategy” to put the whole matter behind us?
Why is their anxiety to conclude this episode so strong that even blatantly unconstitutional deals are given serious consideration? The usual explanation is that a full Senate trial would be politically damaging to Republicans and conservatives. But conservative political success will be impossible if we do not focus all of our effort, to the end, on convicting Bill Clinton in the Senate. Those who think otherwise are either not conservatives, or have not thought the matter through.
Conservatives shouldn’t be interested in getting “past” the Clinton scandals. We shouldn’t think those scandals, and the constitutional duty they put before the Senate, are a burden and an obstacle for us. We should embrace this duty, not run from it, and we should help the American people to understand what it really means. If we do not, we will deserve the political losses we will suffer in the years to come. Surrender on the question of Bill Clinton’s fitness for office is surrender on the entire conservative agenda, and I can prove it.
The most important crisis we face as a people is the moral crisis of our country’s principles and judgment. That moral crisis threatens the survival of our free institutions, and so we must deal with it as the top priority of our national concern — or we will lose our republic and our freedom.
The most compelling practical illustration of that crisis today is the depravity of the man in the White House, and the harm that his degeneracy has caused to the national conscience. This means that right now the Clinton crisis is the crucial battleground of our national political struggle. Liberals understand this, but the conservatives seeking a quick end to the scandals do not.
Bill Clinton is the poster boy of American moral depravity, and moral incompetence. It is a mistake to think that the degenerate liberalism of our time approves of Bill Clinton in spite of his vices. Today’s liberals like Bill Clinton not in spite of, but because of, his vices. They like him because he represents the proof that no matter what their background, no matter what their level in our society, individuals can’t control their lusts. Bill Clinton vindicates an essential piece of the liberal dogma — that “we the people” can’t control our passions, and have no effective ability to discipline any part of our lives. He is actually the most effective argument liberals have against the moral premise of conservatism.
If conservatives accept that argument by failing to do everything we can to hold Bill Clinton accountable, then we will have lost the most important argument, and we won’t win any of the others.
Many conservatives believe that we can succeed politically by focusing on issues such as taxes, Social Security, and education — rather than the moral crisis we face. But we cannot hope to win political victory on these issues without first addressing their moral foundations. Let’s think this through on several key issues.
The conservative approach to education proposes returning control of the educational process to parents, through vouchers and other means, and ultimately breaking the government monopoly on education. This entire approach is based, in the end, on the simple principle that we should put parents back in authoritative control of our educational system. Conservatives insist that parents, not educrats and bureaucrats, should be recognized as responsible in the first instance for the education of their children, and that parental choices should govern the use of our education dollars.
On Social Security we make a similar recommendation. We urge privatization and propose to renovate the national approach to retirement security by increasing opportunities for people to invest their own money. Here again the core proposal is that we should recognize the responsibility of the individual working people of this country to take account of their future, and that we should return to them the authority and control over their own hard-earned dollars so that they can invest those dollars where they will win the greatest return. As in education, our theme is recognizing the responsibility of our citizens and providing policies that will be built on and respect that responsibility.
The same thing is true in tax policy. Some conservatives talk about tax cuts. Others of us, like myself, urge abolishing the confiscatory and intrusive income tax and going back to the system our Founders intended. That system is based on sales taxes, so that government no longer has a pre-emptive claim to even one penny of our income until we have made decisions about where to invest, save, or spend it. Here too our proposal depends upon recognizing the responsibility of individuals, and giving them authority once again over their own hard-earned resources, so they can make the choices that are best for their family, their community, and their country.
Every element of our key conservative agenda is founded on the same assumption: that people are responsible enough to make choices for themselves; that they have the capacity to do what is right for themselves, for their children, for their parents, for their family.
Now consider the key argument that liberals make against us in each of these areas. When we start talking about Social Security, the liberals set up panels where experts sit and say “Well, if you do that, people won’t provide for their futures, and they won’t make the right decisions, and they won’t be responsible.” And when we talk about education, the liberals respond with, “Well, if you do that, what about the bad parents? The ones who won’t provide for their kids, and won’t take care of their kids? We can’t trust them to act responsibly.”
The liberal response to our conservative proposal on tax reform is the same. Speaking in Buffalo last week about why America’s tax over-payment should not be returned in the form of tax cuts, President Clinton said, “We have no permanent deficit anymore. The natural condition is a surplus, okay? So the question is what do we do with it. We could give it all back to you and hope you spend it right. But I think here is the problem. If you don’t spend it right, here’s what is going to happen . . .” And then he went into the parade of horribles that will be the result of the fact that people will not be responsible, won’t make choices that reflect their capacity to care for themselves and their families, won’t care about the poor, the elderly, and the downtrodden in society. It will all be a terrible spectacle of hard-heartedness and cruelty and suffering — if we leave it up to the people themselves.
Our policy disagreements with the liberals all reduce to the fact that we stand for recognizing individual responsibility and they stand against it. The arguments between conservatives and liberals are not at root economic arguments, and they are not political arguments. They are arguments premised on the moral capacity, or lack thereof, of the American people.
If the American people have the moral capacity to act responsibly, then we conservatives are right. If the American people don’t have that moral capacity, then the liberals are right, and conservatives are going to lose, and deserve to lose, every argument over policy. Conservatives have been attacked most successfully on our moral plank, on the basis of the premise that you can’t trust the people because they don’t have the moral capacity to do what is right. They will be selfish; they will be greedy; they will be careless; they will be indifferent to the future, and to the obligations they have to one another, even to such an extent that they will neglect their own futures if the government and the socialists and the bureaucrats don’t step in.
It is not an economic argument and it is not a political argument. It is a moral argument. We will not win as conservatives until we have done what is necessary to defeat the liberal lie that our people do not have the moral capacity to be free. But how can we defeat this lie?
Conservatives will not win politically until we have once again reestablished the strong moral foundation and heritage of this nation. We can defeat the liberal premise that Americans are moral cripples only if we are willing to lead a national return to the fundamental moral principles on which America was based. That means that we must always remind our people of the importance of the principles of judgment and right action that allow us to know with confidence that we must not, and will not, abuse our freedom, our material wealth, or any of the rights and blessings which God has given us.
Our Founders knew that. That is why they built this country on moral premises that reflect the basic truth that is, I think, at the heart of all moral probity: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”
So many people speak the language of rights these days. On the left and the right, everybody seems concerned chiefly with rights. We must remember that our great Declaration is actually first and foremost a statement about the authority from which our rights derive. That authority is not the Constitution, the Supreme Court, the President, or the will of the people. Our rights come from the will of the Creator. The founding idea of American life is that we can govern ourselves only if we accept the truth that in our exercise of freedom we must stand before the tribunal of that authority. Acknowledgement of the authority of God is the bedrock foundation of moral discipline. We must restore our respect for that truth, in order to restore the foundations of our moral will and judgment.
We will not win as conservatives until we have won the battle for America’s moral renewal. There is no hope for the conservative agenda if we follow the pied pipers of political expediency who tell us to “put all that moral stuff on the back burner” and talk about Social Security, taxes, and school choice instead. These issues are crucially important, but we will win none of the arguments about them as long as the American people are led to believe that they are not morally fit for the role that our policies give them — as long as they believe that they will abuse the money, abuse the freedom, and turn their backs on their responsibilities as parents and human beings.
For all of these reasons, conservatives who really understand our agenda will realize that right now there is nothing more important going on in this country than deciding whether we are going to put a stamp of approval on the most depraved president in our history. We must seize this opportunity to demonstrate that we still understand that in order to sustain self-government, we must sustain the character that it takes to be free. A people that can accept the continuation in office of a man like Bill Clinton is not, in fact, fit to be free.
Conservatives cannot win crucial cultural and political debates if we allow the moral self-confidence of this people to be utterly destroyed.
America will not renew her liberty, her self-government, her great and shining example of hope for human kind, if we do not restore that moral foundation which is built on our respect for God, and which allows us to respect ourselves.
An exit strategy from the effort to remove Bill Clinton is an exit strategy from liberty. We must instead pursue a victory strategy for disciplined self-government — we must fight to remove Bill Clinton from office, and to make our fellow citizens understand why this must be done.