I find the contrast between the impeachment of Richard Nixon and the impeachment of Bill Clinton one of the most fascinating comparisons in American history. There is no connection in most people’s minds; the accusations, personalities, and political environment were extraordinarily different. History has come to label Richard Nixon a crook and Bill Clinton if not a hero, something close. But these perceptions are based on something most people neglect. Nixon resigned and saved the nation the divisive and unseemly spectacle of a Senate trial while Clinton stood on trail and prevailed. I have read many that believe Nixon could have prevailed in a Senate trail and no one doubts that Bill Clinton was guilty of perjury. So who is really the crook? The different historical narratives that surround these men are far more a function of their personal choices than they are the facts of each case or even the politics of the moment.
My first reaction when I saw the NYTimes headlines this AM,
…was that her campaign was effectively over. Particularly when followed up in hours by a Reuters story that the Clinton Foundation was playing some sort of three-card Monty with its IRS reporting. And yet over at Hot Air, Jazz Shaw says, “I’m not sure if this is a “bombshell” report from the New York Times this morning or if it’s just more of the same old same old when it comes to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation.” The simple fact of the matter is that to Richard Nixon reality mattered, so he stepped down for the good of the nation. To the Clintons all that matters is public perception. Thus wrongdoing, or even the appearance of wrongdoing, is not the issue, only that it can be spun. As Shaw admits, we don’t know if this will be a serious issue for Hillary until it has been through the spin cycle – the facts notwithstanding. The nation has not recovered from the divorce of reality and public perception wrought in the Clinton impeachment.
Fred Barnes is in the Wall Street Journal this morning discussing how incredibly high the 2016 stakes are. He focuses on policy and the way Washington works. He is absolutely correct on every count, but I wonder if any candidate can pull off what needs to be done if the chasm between reality and public perception remains so wide. Barnes notes:
The history here is not encouraging. When President Dwight Eisenhower arrived at the White House in 1953, he was expected to begin dismantling the New Deal. But some New Deal policies were popular, and the task of uprooting programs in place for nearly two decades was daunting. The New Deal survived almost wholly intact.
The perception of Obama is such that unless that perception can be brought far closer to reality than it currently is, reversing what he has done may prove impossible for even the most gifted and trained of leaders. Add to that mix the glowing perception of Hillary, despite a mountain of evidence of her incredibly poor judgement, if not criminal action (how complicit was she in the actions of Bill?; Benghazi; the email scandal; the Foundation…), and one must wonder if reality matters at all anymore. The stakes of 2016 are actually far higher than the errant, wrong-headed and dangerous polices of the Obama administration. A nation that cannot face reality is a nation doomed.
You would think that simple numbers could be argued, but as Hugh discovered yesterday in his interview with Michelle Ye Hee Lee, some people want to argue straw men (perception) instead of the actual numbers, you know?
When the matter cannot simply be counted things can get much more complicated, much faster. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the on going discussion over same sex marriage. Questions of the candidates related to it seem to be the latest “litmus test” questions, much like “Do you believe in evolution?” The questions are not meant to inquire into the subject and substance of the issue, but rather to elicit a response that will allow the observer to label the interviewee in some fashion. The questions create a perception instead of explore a reality.
Over last weekend, last week’s, “Would you attend a loved one’s same-sex marriage ceremony?’ became the far more loaded, ”Do you think that homosexuality is a choice?” This latter question has almost nothing to do with the realities of the situation. It is an attempt to cast homosexuality as a trait, and thus equate it to race or gender. It may be true that, as Rubio said in responding to the inquiry, “sexual preference is something that people are born with,” but a preference is something very different than a trait. It is how we choose to act, each of us with our own preferences, that defines us. We all have or have had at some point unhealthy preferences. But only if we choose to act upon them do they become identifying traits. Smoking is actually enjoyable for many, many people, and thus preferred. If people succumb to this preference they become “smokers.” But we do not consider people that have tried it, enjoyed it, and may even prefer it “smokers” if they choose to ignore their preference for the sake of their health. It is the choice that sets the identity, not the preference – that is reality.
It is not reality to think a same-sex marriage is equal to an opposite-sex marriage. Yes, technology allows same-sex couples to produce children, but the reality is that it requires intervention from outside the marriage for those children to be produced. Quite the opposite is true in an opposite sex couple – outside intervention is required to prevent children from resulting. These facts are reality. To say same sex and opposite sex marriage are the same is a perception, not a reality. I would have far less trouble with same-sex marriage if the discussion advocating it was based in reality instead of perception.
The shift goes back to the Bill of Rights. Instead of highlighting the free exercise of religion, Levin turns to the other part of the First Amendment, the prohibition against religious establishment. He cites James Madison’s ideas about religious liberty, noting that Madison’s primary concern was that religion involves higher things and should not be a matter of law. To establish a religion is to compel everyone to affirm tenets that some believe are false. To make someone join in a religious rite he thinks is contrary to God’s will is tyranny.
The relevance to today’s coercions is obvious. It amounts to subjecting people to the same kind of “establishment of religion” that Madison feared. Levin continues: “They are in this sense more like religious believers under compulsion in a society with an established church than like believers denied the freedom to exercise their religion.”
So, liberals aren’t trying to “kill religious liberty.” They are, instead, returning to the days when “the Anglo-American world had a formal state religion—except that now the state religion is supposed to be progressive liberalism.”
The irony would be delicious were it not so tragic in its consequence. Even more ironic is that this new established religion is based on perception, not reality. I will not deny that my Christian faith supposes things supernatural that cannot be proven empirically. But my Christian faith also does not deny the reality of the natural world that can be empirically explored. Deepest of the ironies is that modern science came out of the Church in a effort to learn of God by learning of His creation.
Barnes is right – 2016 is pivotal, but on a deeper level than he imagines. The “new normal” Barnes fears is about more than how Washington works. Job One for the 2016 candidates is to pivot to reality and restore to old normal. We cannot afford to have them play the Clintonian game of perception over reality to get elected and then expect them to be able to govern based on reality. In operating that way, Bill Clinton forever removed that option from the table. Obama has shown, in the Clinton wake, that a perception based campaign can only lead to perception based governance. Our candidates have to face reality squarely, including the reality of the many people’s errant perceptions.