Now and then I’m praised for my supposed courage. I always blush
at this compliment, because, knowing myself, I know how far from the
truth it really is. There is no quality I honor more than courage,
and there is nobody, except Christ himself, whom I admire more than
the Christian martyrs who died under torture to bear witness to their
faith. And I pray that I will never be put to the real test.
In fact, I could say that the reason I write as I do is that I hope
I will never live in a society in which I will have to be truly brave.
But we are headed for just such a society. The proof is that some people
think I am brave.
What an odd compliment people pay me! We are told that America is “the
land of the free,” where our freedom of speech is protected by
the First Amendment and a tradition of tolerance; yet people assume
that it takes guts to speak up against liberal dogma, to criticize
Israel, to mention certain obvious facts about race and sex, to point
out that homosexuality is a perversion, and so forth. If we enjoy full “freedom
of expression,” why should anyone be afraid to say anything?
In particular, why, in a society in which a swine like Larry Flynt
can become a multimillionaire and a friend of the president, are people
especially afraid to offend certain minorities?
Something is going on here that our official gabble of free speech
doesn’t begin to explain. First Amendment or no, most Americans
are deeply afraid to say what they think. And when they see someone
who isn’t afraid, they conclude that he must have the courage
of a lion.
On the other hand, as usual, there is Bill Clinton. Clinton is a perfect
specimen of bogus courage — the sort of guy who says things that
are now safe and even fashionable with an air of jut-jawed determination
that suggests he would have said them when they were not only unfashionable,
but dangerous to espouse. In fact he has even told us that when he
was nine years old, he and his little friends, in solidarity with Rosa
Parks, rode in the backs of buses in Arkansas!
Clinton is only a parody of many other liberals who want us to believe
that their willingness to conform to today’s fashions is proof
that they would have had the courage to defy yesterday’s fashions.
Somehow I find it hard to believe that today’s coward would have
been yesterday’s hero, if only he’d had the chance. More
likely he would have been, like most people, a timid conformist in
Hard as I try, I can’t imagine Clinton dying a martyr’s
death under any regime. At risk of seeming cynical about this selfless
public servant, I find it easy to imagine him as a glib opportunist
in any environment. My cynicism was only confirmed when the former
antiwar idealist, elevated to the post of commander in chief of the
armed forces, started bombing remote places as impeachment loomed.
If he’d had any residue of his former scruples against “undeclared
wars,” he might at least have asked Congress to authorize hostilities,
as the Constitution requires; but of course the Constitution is a living
document, superbly adaptable to the needs of the moment.
Clinton’s style remains equally homiletic no matter what side
he happens to be on at a given moment. And whichever side he takes,
he takes for the most moral of reasons. His self-justifications are
as fluent as they are forgettable. He always speaks with the same iron
conviction he displayed when he denied having carnal relations with “that
Though men like Clinton imply that they would have been willing to
be martyrs for today’s fashions in other times, it’s typical
of them that they can never really imagine themselves on the losing
side in history. They can only imagine themselves fighting bravely
for what would eventually be the winning side. They waste no sentiment
on lost causes, however noble; they feel it was always their destiny
to fight for today’s causes.
What does a Clinton really believe in? You might as well ask a chameleon
to tell you its favorite color.
Copyright © 2011 by the Fitzgerald
Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This column was published originally
by Griffin Internet Syndicate on May 4, 2000.
Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio
and archives of some of his columns.
Watch Sobran's last TV appearance on YouTube.
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during the FGF Tribute to Joe Sobran in December 2009.
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