Is Adultery a Tradition? Should We Continue It?

Staples and Tell

Is Adultery a Tradition? Should We Continue It?

Staples and Tell

Is Adultery a Tradition? Should We Continue It?
New books dissected over email.
Oct. 6 1998 5:35 PM

Staples and Tell

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Dear Brent,

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I'm hurt. You're ignoring me.

As I tried to explain yesterday, the three or four page section of Bennett's book that you've been riffing on doesn't come close to saying that "the only Godly response" to the nation's Clinton problem is impeach and convict. That would be preposterous--and, I wager, probably blasphemous to boot. Instead, Bennett is merely arguing that folks who invoke spiritual forgiveness, all by its lonesome, as an impeachment-stopper are making an ancient theological error: assuming that the constant availability of God's grace renders unnecessary the judgments of man's rules and laws. Most of us have no trouble avoiding this error when confronted by, say, a bank robber. Why are we having so much trouble now, when confronted by a perjurer?

In any case, no, it is not my position that people who disagree with me about this, or anything else, are "violating God's canon"--not least because, as I also tried to indicate yesterday, I don't know enough to make such an awesome charge. I don't attend "churches," as you do, not even a single one. Perhaps this week, with benefit of your preacherly expertise, I can begin to understand the catechism. Help me out.

For instance. You report that your fellow congregants are "pained" at the whole Lewinsky affair, pained in part "at Clinton for participating." Pained why, I wonder? Reverend Staples himself approvingly announces that "middle-aged men all over America" might well envy the president his sexual adventures, Clinton's masterful place in America's "established tradition" of adultery.

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If I were bold, I might challenge you on this. Not every human behavior qualifies as an "established tradition." Thanksgiving is an established tradition. But picking your nose is a bad habit. And lying under oath is a felony. And adultery ... um, that's a sin for believing Christians, isn't it?

And if it isn't a sin, and if presidential perjuries about that sin aren't all that big a deal, why then, Brent, do you say you think Clinton should have considered stepping down when he got caught? And if Clinton should have considered resignation, why should the rest of us not now be considering impeachment? And if "The People" should not be considering impeachment, why are you prepared, with such apparent equanimity, to "yield" to their elected representatives in Congress if impeachment is the end result?

I am confused.

Perhaps we can at least stipulate that Bill Bennett is not some wacko "pledged to bring [Clinton] down" as an "Antichrist." Perhaps we can also stipulate that, where impeachment is concerned, the character of the president's loopier "enemies" should be entirely irrelevant. In American politics, presidents have enemies. But they're still supposed to obey the law.

Cheers,
David 

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Brent Staples writes editorials on politics and culture for the New York Times. David Tell is opinion editor and lead editorialist at the Weekly Standard. This week Staples and Tell read The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals, by William J. Bennett (The Free Press; 160 pages; $20).