Sunday, December 12, 1999

Now that was a blue Christmas

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's hard to believe that just one year ago our nation was torn apart by the impeachment of a president. In the season when we ponder the meaning of Christmas, the star of Bethlehem and red stockings, we fought bitterly over the meaning of “is,” the Starr Report and a blue dress. It was a like a weird dream after too many eggnogs.

        While carols sang of peace on earth, the president bombed Iraq to change the subject. The Three Wise Men were replaced by the House Managers. Our white Christmas was a snow job of lies from sleazy lawyers.

        Remember “sexual McCarthyism” and visions of “vast right-wing conspiracies” dancing in Hillary's head?

        Looking back now, I find it easier to picture a chubby elf and eight reindeer climbing out of my fireplace than to imagine how Bill Clinton emerged from the White House smirking and “Ho-Ho-Ho-ing” about getting away with a sleighful of felonies.

        Here's something more strange: The whole thing is now a forbidden zone like some radioactive Russian reactor. Off limits. It's the Great Unmentionable for Democrats, while Republicans hold their noses and pretend not to notice.

        But now that passions have cooled like leftover turkey, shouldn't we look back and ask: Did we do the right thing? Did we learn anything?

        The dynamo of debauchery who dumped the landfill of lies into our living rooms has obviously learned nothing. In a recent speech, Mr. Clinton bragged about the way he heroically defended the Constitution by becoming the first elected president to be impeached.

        Liberal pundits such as Richard Cohen have learned nothing. He is still embracing the lie he loves, that it was “only about sex.” He still attacks Ken Starr like a dog barking at the shotgun while the duck flies away.

        Some Clintonistas haven't learned. I still hear from them — stubbornly defending the indefensible, as if every criticism of the president is an attack on their own integrity. Maybe that's what they mean by “Clinton fatigue” — a convenient way to say that even the people who voted for him twice are sick and tired of him now.

        I haven't learned much, either. I still think the “Big Creep” should have resigned, and failing that should have been convicted by the Senate. The evidence was undeniable. But drunk on a cocktail of White House smears, intimidation and charm, the Senate stumbled and fell flat on its flapping jowls.

        But it's funny how things turn out. Ironically, the Democrats who took a bullet for Mr. Clinton would be better off now if he had been convicted and evicted. Al Gore would already be president. Instead, he's so confused about who he is, he tells whoppers like his boss but can't quite pull it off. He recently claimed he “discovered” the Love Canal — then had to retract it. Turns out he discovered it two months after President Carter had already declared it a disaster area and evacuated everyone. (This story was ignored by the press so there would be more time to grill George W. Bush about the assistant deputy minister of textiles in Flaxistan.)

        Just as ironically, Republicans won by losing the impeachment brawl. Polls now show the top concern of voters is to elect honest leaders — a stinging repudiation of the Clinton administration.

        But did we do the right thing? No.

        The next shameless liar who abuses White House power to hide his crimes will be much harder to throw out. And worse than that, we learned something disturbing: Americans are deeply divided into those who care about truth and those who care more about what they want to be true. Just as the O.J. verdict exposed a race gap in our national definition of justice, the Clinton wars exposed a cultural gulf in our definition of right and wrong.

        I saw the same split this year when I wrote columns about churches and faith, or criticized garbage “art” and gay scout leaders. People are polarized, miles apart, passionately and bitterly opposed.

        One side believes in clear moral standards of right and wrong, refined for thousands of years from the Ten Commandments.

        The other side insists we must tolerate anything — except people who judge right and wrong.

        The next millennium should be very interesting.

        Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.