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During the 1996 presidential campaign, a number of us pleaded with President Clinton to behave like a patriot and not run for re-election. We argued that the ethical and legal morass engulfing him and his administration would not only humiliate the entire nation, but fuel public cynicism of government.

But once again, the voters responded to Clinton’s seductive rhetoric and sleazy schmooze. When the nose-hold election was over, once again, the American people had misspoken, and Clinton was president for another four years.

Based on his behavior during the second term, it is fairly obvious that Clinton was invigorated by his re-election, and motivated not to redeem himself, but to plow even deeper into personal muck and political mire.

In a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 13, Clinton proudly announced, “I’m not ashamed of the fact that they impeached me … and I’m glad we fought it, and the American people stuck with me. … I think we saved the Constitution of the United States.”

If Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle was right when he said, “In the long run, every Government is the exact symbol of its People, with their wisdom and unwisdom,” it would be fair to say that when the American people look at Clinton, they see their own reflection.

Clinton has brought us face to face with who we are and what we are. Simply put, we are witnessing the denouement of the sorry saga of the ’60s, the drugs, the promiscuity, the vulgarity and the perversion.

It is a test of ourselves, what we are and what we hope for our children. We have been confronted with the worst that is within us, the deep flaws we all have and with which we struggle. What remains to be seen is whether we will rebuke our demons or embrace them. On that inevitable day when we face the Great Evil, will we cast it away, or celebrate its arrival?

There are those who think the people made a bargain with the devil, and that Clinton is the antichrist. The underlying thought here is that economic issues are judged to be more important than moral issues. From a biblical perspective, this is to say that most Americans apparently believe that laying up treasures in heaven is less important than laying them up in the Bank of America.

While there is a large portion of truth in this contention, Clinton is not the antichrist. His devilish skills, as good as they are, are not of biblical dimensions.

There are many stories that could be told to characterize today’s America. If I could choose but one, it would be the recent appearance of actor Christopher Reeve before a congressional committee. He was gaunt and drawn, sitting awkwardly in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down. Symbolically, here was Superman, defender of truth, honor and the American way, in a fallen state, pitifully pleading for the right to use baby parts to cure himself and others like him.

I have great sympathy for Mr. Reeve, but I was stunned by the symbolism.

The stakes are high. The great historian Alexis de Tocqueville was not simply mouthing a high-sounding platitude when he said, “… that liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” If the behavior of a people is not controlled by an internal moral force, it will be controlled by an external brutal force. Personal freedom cannot be maintained in a society populated by wicked and violent people.

If religious faith and beliefs are swept aside in a society, as they are being in ours, what is the source of standards of behavior? Once we have thrown the Ten Commandments out of our courtrooms, out of our classrooms and out of our lives, the law becomes the benchmark for defining right and wrong.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russian novelist, in a commencement address at Harvard University, sounded this alarm: “I have spent all my life under a Communist regime, and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one, indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man, either.”

Alas, the law is an unstable compass. It is mangled by politicians. It changes as the minds of black-robed lawgivers change. It can be made a mockery of itself and used by political scoundrels to steal power and freedoms from the people.

Clinton has proved beyond question that our constitutional form of government is more vulnerable to subversion than, in our wildest imaginings, we ever suspected.

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