Bill Clinton was supposed to be the Democratic Party’s dream candidate. As a handsome, articulate Rhodes Scholar with a Yale law degree, this overachieving wunderkind may be the first bonafide political prodigy to be spawned by the Democrats in nearly thirty years.
Clinton was the nation’s youngest governor, and is now one of its longest serving. He can debate well, has a good sense of humor, delivers a decent stump speech, and displays an amazing command of nearly every public policy issue (at least domestically). He is at home with Washington political elites and New England liberal intellectuals, but seems comfortable sermonizing in southern Christian churches or at a civil rights conference.
He is a master of the political art of being all things to all people, or appearing to offer something to everyone. Yet somehow robo-candidate Clinton has been unable to capture the hearts of American voters. Apparently surface perfection does not always translate into certain election.
But why don’t Americans buy what Clinton is selling? What is missing in this man’s super-resumé? With George Bush (another candidate with a mile-long resumé) it has always been “the vision thing.” With Bill Clinton, the big stumbling block seems to be “the character thing.” From adultery, to draft evasion, to conflict of interest with his wife’s law firm, etc., etc., Clinton has become what Jerry Brown has aptly labelled the “scandal-a-week candidate.” Though these numerous other allegations might not as yet hold up in a court of law, they have nevertheless become a cumulatively powerful indictment before the court of public opinion, which rightfully applies a broader standard of judgment when determining those who are qualified to govern.
Concerning the adultery charge, most Americans have concluded for themselves that Clinton’s inability to deny the allegation is sufficient reason to believe it is true. After all, nobody who is truly innocent would hesitate for a moment to declare so, especially when a presidential nomination hangs in the balance. This is particularly true of Clinton who has throughout the campaign repeatedly proclaimed his innocence concerning the plethora of other scandalous behavior which has been attributed to him.
U.S. News & World Report recently reported that “the candidate privately admitted to his closest friends that he had had an extramarital affair, that it had ended, and that the woman had promised to remain silent” (3/30/92). Meanwhile, word has begun to leak out that the Washington Post has already obtained documents with the potential to destroy Clinton’s candidacy, though it is not known whether they concern any of the accusations made to date or relate to an entirely new set of charges.
Of course, not all voters care whether or not Clinton has been faithful to his wife. The idea that marital fidelity is purely a private matter, irrelevant to a man’s qualification to govern, has become increasingly accepted. Youthful pot-smoking would be viewed similarly. However, even though many people are willing to overlook the acts themselves, they are nevertheless quite disturbed by the fact that Clinton’s public statements on these and numerous other concerns have been conspicuously lacking in forthrightness. Calling on all the lawyerly sophistry at his command, Clinton has seemingly dared reporters to catch him in a lie. Yet as each new piece of contradictory evidence is brought forth, he somehow finds his own creative way to recast events and still be able to emerge claiming innocence.
But if Clinton believes that clever casuistry can sustain his campaign through November, then he has gravely miscalculated. The American electorate is in an angry mood this year, and is not much given to generosity when it comes to giving politicians the benefit of the doubt. The doubts which are engendered by his continued evasion of straightforward questions, are beginning to feed upon themselves. Many voters have begun to subscribe to the “iceberg” theory concerning revelations about Clinton’s character: what has already surfaced may not quite be enough to sink his presidential aspirations, but they fear that what has yet to come to light may be far more condemning.
For those who are willing to apply biblical criteria to the analysis of candidates for public office, the allegations against Clinton are particularly serious in that if true, they are indicative of other character flaws of an even more profound nature. Proverbs 6:32 states that “a man who commits adultery lacks judgment,” and Proverbs 7:4-5 teaches that wisdom will keep a man from the adulteress.
The act of adultery usually impacts only a few individuals, but choosing a President who lacks the judgment and wisdom to govern his own passions could conceivably bring disaster upon an entire nation. The scriptures warn us that “like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self control” (Proverbs. 25:28). Can we then be sure that the walls that protect our nation are truly secure if we should entrust their defense to a man who has demonstrated a lack of personal self-control?
Proverbs 12:22 teaches that “the Lord detests lying lips.” And should we not take extreme pains to be certain that the behavior of our most important civil officer not be detestable to God? If so, then truthfulness must be an unalterable prerequisite for any serious candidate. Ultimately, we know that righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.
This unavoidable reality should guide us in the selection of all those who seek our support for public office, but its urgency is never more evident than when we are given the responsibility to choose in whom to invest the authority to govern our nation. We must never allow ourselves to be blinded or beguiled by the brilliance of a man’s resumé or the smoothness of his words. Proven character and integrity must always be the first criterion by which we pass judgment on any presidential candidate.