Gauging the Clinton Fallout

WASHINGTON-In the wake of his Senate acquittal on counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, President Clinton said he did not expect the country to be harmed by the episode.

Some Catholic leaders see things differently, according to interviews conducted by the Register.

The leaders were asked to gauge the impact of the impeachment-and-trial process and what it says about the United States. Their answers touched on the same issues the president raised in recent remarks.

Senator Rick Santorum

Clinton, at a press conference Feb. 19, said in his defense that “presidents are people, too.”

Senator Rick Santorum (R Pa.) argued that this self-exonerating attitude revealed much about today's America.

“Bill Clinton is a reflection of our culture, not its leader,” Santorum said. “The people of America knew what they were getting. They didn't think it mattered. They deemed character unimportant. We have become so nonjudgmental, we are no longer willing to fight for the souls of our children anymore. …

“Tolerance has become the virtue of all virtues. But it is essential to distinguish between tolerance of people and tolerance of their actions.”

As a senator, Santorum was a “juror” in the Clinton trial. He voted that the president was “guilty” on both counts.

“I felt my role as a juror was to find the facts and to judge them, not thinking necessarily about the cultural ramifications,” Santorum explained. “But his ability to lead the country was important in my decision. I do not think that many others felt this way.”

Father Richard John Neuhaus

The president was also quoted saying, “I think the Constitution has been re-ratified,” by the decision to acquit him.

Father Richard John Neuhaus, publisher of First Things magazine and head of the Institute for Religion and Public Life, said he believed that the opposite, in fact, happened.

Moreover, Father Neuhaus said, “My own hunch is that after all the dust settles, it will become evident that the so-called support for Clinton doesn't indicate a change in the basic moral attitudes of most Americans. I think people are over-reading the situation.

“There are many things which are deeply disturbing that some politicians publicly said they thought he was guilty and that it was impeachable, yet still voted to acquit.

“There seems to be a move away from representative government, even beyond government by plebiscites, to government by polls. But we don't have evidence that this tells us about our moral culture, despite its overlap with the political culture.”

Father Neuhaus added that there is “a very thoughtful and morally concerned sector of the public. They may make a prudential judgment and say that this has gone on long enough. … All this tells us nothing new that we didn't know two years ago, or even 20. It is the same mix of virtues and vices.

“What was odd about this situation were the circumstances. We have never before had an MTV president, a juvenile delinquent in the White House. It is an understandable reaction to want the whole thing to go away.”

David Schindler

Clinton said, “I hope that the presidency has not been harmed. I don't believe it has been.”

But David Schindler, a professor at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C., and editor of the theological journal Communio, said that moral authority and public life should be inseparable.

“The question of integrity, which is the issue here deep down, however important it is in private life, does not affect the judgment of public life anymore,” he said.

Too many today “judge public life by efficiency. It is the issue associated with Macchiavelli: Do you want a good person in charge or a person who creates a good impression but is efficient?”

He said the consequences are worse than we might expect.

“The lack of genuine statesman-ship among world leaders today is dangerous. In the case of Clinton, it has to be asked how many lives were lost in foreign countries as a result of a president without credibility whose word has no moral authority behind it?”

He cited the arbitrariness of military action — and inaction — taken in Iraq and, most recently, Kosovo.

Monsignor George Kelly

“I can't say that I think this has been good for the country, but we will see,” Clinton said. “I expect to have two good years here.”

Author Monsignor George Kelly, founder of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, said that the effect on the country is obvious — but that it wasn't all caused by Clinton.

“Anyone for the Ten Commandments now is a right-wing radical,” Monsignor Kelly declared. “When the mainline Protestants gave up their faith in the core doctrines of Christianity, social action became the Gospel.

“Now, anyone who is Christian and insists on all Ten Commandments is looked on as a fanatic. The religion of the times is good works, not faith. The liberation of the '60s was a liberation from God, from the Commandments, because the Commandments interfered with ‘me’ and ‘my wants.’

“Clinton is a product of that era. It is appalling that Clinton can commit adultery in the White House without producing outrage.”

Edward Mulholland is based in New York.