WHEN WILL THE HEATHEN RAGE?

by Karen Hall


I miss sin.

Iím old enough now that I find myself pining away for a lot of things that donít exist any more. I miss drive-in theaters. I miss ice cream trucks. I miss the E Street Band. But what I find myself missing the most these days, much to my surprise, is sin.

Iím not talking about the wild days of my misspent youth. I miss sin as a concept.

I miss moral outrage. If nothing else, it gave us the illusion that there was something we could do about gross misconduct or perceived injustices. We could huff and puff and yell and write letters to the editor. We could shun the depraved. Every now and then, there would be enough of a grass roots tempest to launch a "Sixty Minutes" investigation. Those were the days.

I find myself missing the bloodthirsty eye-for-an-eye mentality that used to give me the willies. These days, I'd settle for baby-toe-for-an-eye. Even a disgusted sigh would be nice.

I long for the days of yesteryear when murderers were locked up, once everyone in the country knew they were murderers. Slapping them with a huge fine in a civil suit just doesnít have the same pizzazz. And remember when murder suspects were required to go in for questioning? Remember when they couldnít avoid it by announcing that, well heck, they just didnít want to?

(Pardon my ignorance of the law, but when did that become an option? Iím sure there are a lot of people in prison who are wondering the same thing.)

And then thereís the government. I miss the days when the admission of a fifty-two year old married president that heíd had sex with a twenty year-old underling three feet from the Oval Office would have made his approval rating go down just a point or two. I remember the uproar caused by Jimmy Carterís admission that he had lusted after women in his heart. These days that wouldnít even make CNN.

Somewhere along the way, we have become a nation of moral sloth. Short of blowing up a day care center, itís impossible to get a rise out of us any more. Whenever the transition took place, I must have been sleeping. I now find myself thoroughly out of synch with the rest of the country. I feel like the Rip Van Winkle of scruples, having suddenly awakened in a land where lying is called "misleading" and adultery is known as an "inappropriate relationship."

Since I know Iím playing catch-up, Iím listening closely to what people around me are saying. The rationalization that disturbs me the most is that thereís no point in getting upset over Clintonís misdeeds because everyone in Washington is corrupt and if we get rid of him, someone just as bad if not worse will take his place. They say this as if it should comfort me.

See, Iím thinking that if itís true, we should be worried. We should be yelling for more independent investigations, not whining about being tired of the ones that already exist. We should be slowing down and asking ourselves how it got this way and what we can do about it, not champing at the bit to "move on" and "get about the work of the country."

Which brings me to my next source of irritation. The "move on" mantra. Clinton and his puppets suddenly sound like crowd control police ("Letís move along, nothing to see hereÖ") or cops whoíve been bought off and therefore donít want us looking too closely behind the police tape.

They sound that way because thatís what they are.

I offer my admittedly subjective interpretation. "Itís time to move along" is not coming from a leader. It is coming from a bully. And answer me this: since when is investigating allegations of illegal conduct in the presidency not the "work of the country"?

My vote for first runner-up in the disturbing rationalization contest goes to: "the economy is in good shape therefore I donít care about the presidentís personal life." (Iíd also like to point out that for my hard-earned tax-paying dollars, a presidentís "personal life" takes place in the living quarters or at Camp David, not in the study outside the Oval Office while foreign heads of state are being treated like patients in a dentistís office.)

I felt hopeful this week for the first time in ages, comforted by the stock marketís 512 point plunge. Since our integrity is now apparently conditionally linked to the Dow Jones industrial average, this may be the first sign of the return of objective morality. Maybe weíre sliding into a recession that will be bad enough to make us raise an eyebrow or two, or even to once again refer to hideous behavior as hideous behavior.

Who knows? Another couple of hundred points and we might revive the archaic concept of ethics.

And if the market does an all out crash and burn...?

We might once again be able to call a sin a sin.