The People vs. The Virtuecrats

Staples and Tell

The People vs. The Virtuecrats

Staples and Tell

The People vs. The Virtuecrats
New books dissected over email.
Oct. 6 1998 11:24 AM

Staples and Tell

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Dear David,

Bill Clinton may yet survive this drama and remain president. But he was given fair warning. If he crashes, his appetites will have delivered him into the hands of enemies who said at the outset that he was the Antichrist and pledged to bring him down. Were I Clinton, I'd have fessed up to the affair at the beginning. Middle aged men all over America would have winked and let it pass, saying secretly to themselves, "Go on, Billy, with your bad self," imagining themselves in his place. (It might irritate the virtuecrats, but adultery is an established tradition in this country; no election or impeachment will ever change that.) Were I Clinton, I would at least have considered stepping down when it became clear that I had lied--to spare family, country, and party a long, nasty drama. But he's Bill and I am Brent, each soul with its own compass.  

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I yield to whatever punishment The People find appropriate. In the churches I attend, at least, the people are of four minds about it. They are pained at the smut; pained at Clinton for participating; pained at Starr for peeking through the keyhole; pained at Congress for ceaselessly serving it up; pained that American politics have devolved into a partisan cesspool that precludes even minimal honesty. This global disgust complicates the issue of Clinton's punishment and ensures that Monicagate will blow back on all participants, lowering Washington yet again in the public esteem--costing Republicans and Democrats alike.

What troubles me most in The Death of Outrage is the virtuecrat insistence on painting as amoral outlaws people who have a more anguished and nuanced view of this problem. It's the culture-warrior rant again: "Why don't you heathens live and think like we want you to!?" Indeed, in the passage sighted in my last posting, Mr. Bennett suggests outrageously that the only godly response is the Bennett response. Is it your position as well that those who favor keeping Clinton are, as Mr. Bennett suggests, "violating God's canon?"

Brent
 

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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).