FGF Op-Ed
The Reactionary Utopian
July 21, 2016

The Selfless President
by Joe Sobran
fitzgerald griffin foundation

Ever the moral ham, Clinton continues to feign contrition, laying it
on a little thicker with each attempt. Every time he sheds his skin,
he wants us to believe he’s no longer a snake.


[Classic: January 21, 1996] - Bill Clinton is a New Democrat again. Having tarred the Republicans as extremists, he is filching their themes, thereby displaying one of his defining qualities: an utter incapacity for embarrassment.

Maybe he doesn’t know the meaning of self-contradiction. Or maybe it’s his guiding principle. You have to catch your breath at his audacity. For sheer quick-change conviction and philosophical acrobatics, we shall not look upon his like again.

Mr. Clinton assures us that the era of big government is over, and proceeds to unroll an agenda of dozens of programs that didn’t occur to Lyndon Johnson. You’d think nobody would be gullible enough to believe him, but he shares H. L. Mencken’s opinion of the American public, except that he doesn’t complain about it. No, he turns it to his advantage.

 

Operating on the practical assumption that the American public is stupid, Mr. Clinton has risen to the highest office in the land. If he thinks 51 per cent of the public will believe that cows are reptiles, you may count on him to say that cows are reptiles.

Even the skeptical sages of the media fall for him. They describe his myriad State-of-the-Union proposals as “conservative” because he talks about crime, morality, and the family, all of which he treats as proper concerns of the federal government. Few point out that a new batch of programs is hard to square with his professed concern for cutting the federal deficit.

Operating on the practical assumption that the American public is stupid, Mr. Clinton has risen to the highest office in the land. If he thinks 51 per cent of the public will believe that cows are reptiles, you may count on him to say that cows are reptiles.

Richard Nixon got a bad reputation because in his day lying was still lying, since it was still believed that there was such a thing as objective truth. We are now in a post-Nixon phase of history, and what used to be called demagoguery is now called marketing.

 

The key to Mr. Clinton is that it wouldn’t bother him a bit that he was insulting the intelligence of the other 49 per cent. He is amazingly, brazenly sucker-oriented. Had he delivered the Checkers speech, he wouldn’t have done it in the stiff Nixonian manner; he would have done it with moist eyes and an operatic throb in his voice, while holding up a picture of the dog, preferably in a body cast.

The wonder is that he stands a good chance of reelection, even though he has betrayed nearly everyone at some time or other. Perhaps his supreme feat occurred during the recent budget negotiations, when bitter Republican enemies, who didn’t trust him going in, came out feeling double-crossed by him.

Needless to say, such fluidity creates its own opportunities. This is the golden age of the con man. He is no longer a marginal figure staying on the move to keep one step ahead of the law. In the absence of stable principles - the Decalogue, Ciceronian natural law, the code of the gentleman - the con man himself makes the law.

Richard Nixon got a bad reputation because in his day lying was still lying, since it was still believed that there was such a thing as objective truth. We are now in a post-Nixon phase of history, and what used to be called demagoguery is now called marketing. If enough people believe or “accept” an assertion, it is thereby “validated.”

 

Virtues have become subjective “values.” Nobody can say when life begins. Nobody can even say what Shakespeare means: literary texts, the bright new critics tell us, are “radically unstable” and have no inherent meaning, let alone truth. The Constitution is a “living document” whose historical meaning is irrelevant to today’s jurisprudence. Government can be “reinvented.”

This is the golden age of the con man. In the absence of stable principles - the Decalogue, Ciceronian natural law, the code of the gentleman - the con man himself makes the law.

 

Needless to say, such fluidity creates its own opportunities. This is the golden age of the con man. He is no longer a marginal figure staying on the move to keep one step ahead of the law. In the absence of stable principles - the Decalogue, Ciceronian natural law, the code of the gentleman - the con man himself makes the law.

Does he tell the truth? Never mind that. How do the control groups react? What do the polls say? Truth may be unknowable, but power is still measurable. Power, in one form or another, is all that’s left.

Mr. Clinton grasps the rules of power in today’s Washington like nobody else, and he has thrown himself into the game with headlong enthusiasm. He appears to have understood and used the rules in Arkansas with equally quick apprehension.

Shakespeare’s Richard III, the hunchbacked murderer, delights in his own evil; he is wittily fascinated by the contrast between his ruthless inner self and his pious outward appearances. Yet that inner self still exists, and he finally suffers nightmares of guilt.

 

Does he tell the truth? Never mind that. How do the control groups react? What do the polls say? Truth may be unknowable, but power is still measurable. Power, in one form or another, is all that’s left.

But Mr. Clinton hardly exists apart from his kaleidoscopic appearances. He feels no guilt because he has no inner self that can feel compromised.

A chameleon has no true colors.

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Copyright © 2016 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.
"The Selfless President" by Joe Sobran was published originally by Universal Press Syndicate on January 21, 1996.
This is one of 82 essays in Joe Sobran's collection of his writing on the President Clinton years, titled Hustler: The Clinton Legacy, which FGF Books hopes to republish soon.

Joe Sobran (1946-2010) was a syndicated columnist for over 35 years. Sign-Up to receive classic columns by Sobran and other writers.

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