By Mr. Curmudgeon
The New York Times raises an interesting point in a lead editorial. “When a political party decides that moralizing about personal conduct is as important as public policy, it inevitably makes some of its leaders vulnerable to the worst charges of hypocrisy.” The Times, of course, is speaking of the infidelities and multiple marriages of GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. It’s a startling acknowledgement by the Old Grey Lady, the so-called official newspaper of the nation, that we live in a moral universe.
Notice that the Times’ divides personal conduct from political action – or “public policy.” It infers that our most capable rulers are those unburdened by the heavy baggage of moral pretense. That building an American utopia is best left to self-aware moral reprobates.
“I did something for the worst possible reason. Just because I could,” said former President Bill Clinton in a 60 Minutes interview four years after leaving office. “I think that’s just about the most morally indefensible reason anybody could have for doing anything,” he said of his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
When the scandal broke, Clinton sought to hide his moral indiscretion by going before the nation saying, “I did not have sex with that woman.” That breach of faith was not illegal. However, when he repeated that foolish lie under oath, before a federal grand jury, he risked losing his presidency and serving serious time behind bars.
Multiple investigations by special prosecutors, a House impeachment and his eventual Senate trial consumed much of his presidency. Clinton had little time to engage in the age-old Progressive project that continues to this day: regulating the “personal conduct” of the nation’s citizens to make more perfect Americans in this best of all possible utopias.
Clinton dismissed the investigations of his perjury and obstructions of justice as “illegitimate” and an “abuse of power.” In his post-presidential interview with 60 Minutes, Clinton described this sordid period in American history as his “badge of honor.” His apologists admit he cheated on his wife, perpetrated multiple felonies, but these were minor infractions since he fought for government-run health care.
Gingrich and Bill Clinton have much in common. Like all men, great and small, they are flawed and corrupt.
The profound insight of our nation’s founders was that all men are corrupt. And that this corruption is an ever-present danger to our liberties. In his argument urging the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison wrote that the document was “a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government.” Then Madison asks the $64 million question ... and answers it. “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflection on human nature? If men were angels, no external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
As Madison observed, mankind has been there and done that. But Madison could never imagine the extremes to which the “angels” of government would go in their attempt to mold perfect men.
Leon Trotsky believed Soviet communism would allow men “to extend the wires of his will into hidden recesses, and thereby to raise himself to a new plane, to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman.”
Adolf Hitler took philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s writings to their logical end. “To judge morality properly,” said Nietzsche, “it must be replaced by two concepts borrowed from zoology: the taming of a beast and the breeding of a specific species.” For Hitler, that “species” was the Übermensch – Overman, Overhuman, Above-Human, Superman … the Aryan.
America’s search for the perfect politician, then, is a reflection of how far removed our nation is from its Founders. And the New York Times would have us engage in the fool’s errand of finding that perfect ruler who will mold public policies that force imperfect men down utopia’s bumpy road. To do so, we would have to disregard the vast graveyards filled by governments unrestrained in their quest for human perfection.
Americans would be wise to listen to the Founders and abandon the quest for perfect politicians. Instead, we had better seek leaders who will restrain the power of imperfect government to preserve our perfect, God-given liberties under the established Constitution’s “more perfect union.”