A Defining Moment in Our Nation
Jude Wanniski
February 8, 1999

 

Memo To: Senator Robert Byrd [D-WV]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Shaping of Our Distinct Culture

When two weeks ago you introduced the motion to dismiss the articles of impeachment against the President, the thought struck me that you knew your Democratic colleagues were bent on using that procedural mechanism anyway, so it would re-establish your leadership to get in front of that parade. That there was method in what appeared to so many of your admirers to be a madness on your part. My wife Patricia has expressed great dismay at what you did several times, but I have suggested that we wait and see how it turns our before we draw final conclusions. When the two of us watched your interview with Cokie Roberts on ABC-TV yesterday, she agreed that perhaps you have been doing what you have all along to keep your powder dry for the critical moment.

On the one hand, you said the President clearly lied under oath and obstructed justice as the House articles allege, but that the Senate has to take into account the strong economy, which the American people are enjoying. You inferred that you are taking this into account in your own deliberations. My surmise is that you will vote the history, not the moment, because you understand how the national culture is shaped and that this is a defining moment. In that regard, I append two items which I believe you will appreciate. The first is an excerpt from Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, which he penned in 1839, as a result of his visit to America from his native France. In it, he compared the shaping of a national culture to the shaping of an infant's mind. The second is a short op-ed article written a year ago by my son Matthew, which appeared in The Washington Times of February 8, exactly one year ago. Matthew, who celebrated his 29th birthday yesterday and was a student of political philosophy, wrote about how this was a defining moment in the life of the world, not only our national culture. In essence, he wondered if acquittal of the President for his behavior as we knew it a year ago would mean, henceforth, the man of the house could commit high crimes and misdemeanors against his wife and children as long as he was a good provider.

First deToqueville...

Democracy in America
Alexis deToqueville 1839

When a child is born, his first years pass unnoticed in the joys and activities of infancy. As he grows older and begins to become a man, then the doors of the world open and he comes into touch with his fellows. For the first time notice is taken of him, and people think they can see the germs of the virtues and vices of his maturity taking shape. That, if I am not mistaken, is a great error. Go back; look at the baby in his mother's arms; see how the outside world is first reflected in the still hazy mirror of his mind; consider the first examples that strike his r attention; listen to the first words which awaken his dormant powers of thought; and finally take notice of the first struggles he has to endure. Only then will you understand the origin of his prejudices, habits and passions which are to dominate his life. The whole man is there, if one may put it so, in the cradle.

Something analogous happens with nations. People always bear some marks of their origin. Circumstances of birth and growth affect all the rest of their careers.

If we could go right back to the elements of societies and examine the l very first records of their histories, I have no doubt that we should there find the first cause of their prejudices, habits, dominating passions, and all that comes to be called the national character....

America is the only country in which we can watch the natural quiet growth of society and where it is possible to be exact about the influence of the point of departure on the future of a state.

Now, Matthew's op-ed:

Henry VIII and Clinton: A Parallel
By Matthew Wanniski
The Washington Times
Sunday, February 8, 1998

What do President Clinton and Henry VIII have in common? Both leaders have chafed under traditional sexual mores, uncomfortable with the restrictions all citizens must follow. Unlike Henry VIII, the President has not actively tried to break once and for all with his constraints. Yet, the spirit of the English king seems to have been reborn within him. How it turns out depends on the will of the people, a concept foreign in Henry's time.

The high approval ratings the President now enjoys may be due to the fact that most Americans compartmentalize their lives into public and private realms, as the President is said to do. Maybe it is out of cynicism that the majority of Americans do not fault him for his indiscretions, a belief that equates "politician" with "immorality" or perhaps it is because they can relate to his situation he's only human.

The high divorce rate in this country, along with the large number of unwed moms and deadbeat dads, could give us some indication of how low a premium we place on the sacrament of marriage and the idea of family today.

The President is in trouble because he fails, not only at being a good husband and father, but in understanding what it means to be President. He is the most public and closely watched figure in the world. Whatever he does and whatever he says has influence on the rest of humanity. He is not a king with absolute power. He owes his position to popular sovereignty and must therefore prove his worth. This is the essence of the American experiment.

Unfortunately, it is not only this that the President fails to grasp. He also lacks an appreciation for the vital role family plays in history. While it has never been his strong suit, he does not dismiss family values because he is anti-family, but does so out of ignorance of its true nature.

He is without a solid foundation on the basis of civilization, which is that the family is the most important unit in history. It is the building block of society. The cycles of history depend on its strength or its weaknesses. Through its teachings religion has strengthened them. The First Family's pastors in Arkansas would agree.

The early Christian church raised the status of women when it made a sacrament out of marriage. The belief that women were the root of all evil was replaced with the significant wonder of childbirth, a blessing men could never hope to achieve. The rite of marriage became one of the focal points of Christianity, the greatest and most important occasion ever experienced, an act to be celebrated like no other event in one's life.

Why is it no longer so? In Mohammed's time, Moslem laws were intended to maintain strong marriages. Adulterers were not tolerated; corporal punishment was the norm and the price they paid for their sins. The Prophet considered divorce to be against God's will, although like the Jewish Torah, the Koran permitted the act.

As of the year 1000, polygamy and the keeping of mistresses nearly vanished among the Jews of Europe, and divorces were rare. Family was given precedence over everything else, a practice that continues to this day, even though divorce still occurs.

We can credit religion for strengthening the family and the concept of marriage, and by this brief history lesson, we can begin to understand the central role of marriage and the family have in Western society. It was during the Renaissance that the integrity of marriage and the family suffered an unfortunate breakdown: Henry VIII of England's decision to break with the Catholic Church over his divorce with Catherine of Aragon. This "Defender of the Faith" cannot be credited with the defense of the marriage sacrament. Due to our British heritage, we can blame him for planting the seeds of the acceptance of divorce as a viable way of relinquishing one's marital duties and responsibilities.

Ultimately, we must all accept responsibility, and not just merely acknowledge the loss of family values, but honestly work toward restoring our understanding of the vital role it plays in society. The nation is simply the family writ large. A dysfunctional family is simply not a stable basis for a country, nor the best example to the rest of the world to follow.

The First Lady may forgive her husband's sins, but hers is not the opinion that matters. The United States faces an historic opportunity. Will we allow it to pass us by, like England's serfs, content in their powerlessness? Or will we finally draw the line and break with our sordid past?