One Nation, Under Bill

By Karen Hall

Did I say weekly column?

Okay, I may have said weekly, but I am sure that if you ask the average American, he or she will tell you that the common understanding of "weekly" is "weekly if at all possible, otherwise (shrug) whenever." And besides, most people polled would tell you that how I define "weekly" is my own business, and that I am doing a fine job. (Obviously I am, because the economy is still strong.)

I could offer a host of excuses: my other work, my personal life, the holiday season, or a severe case of writer's block. All of which would be true. But the real reason for my absence has to do with a "what's the use?" funk that began with the public reaction (or lack thereof) to the Starr report, followed by the election results and solidified by the turmoil in the house of representatives. (I mean, let's face it. How long can any self-respecting person maintain interest in a saga from which Newt Gingrich has emerged as the class act?)

So, I was ready to throw in the towel on my political rants. As Tim Russert has stated (about every half hour for the last three months), "the American people have spoken." They have indeed. Loudly, clearly and consistently. They do not care. I should find something new to lose sleep over. God knows there's no shortage of categories.

But. There's this little nagging voice in the back of my head that says things like, "The American people have spoken before." The American people once thought that slavery was a good idea. And internment camps, and prohibition, and smoking, and lime green shag carpet. Hell, the American people have made Jerry Springer a millionaire. Let's stop and give that a little thought before we deem holy any declaration by the American people.

Now, I digress a moment to state that I do realize that Bill Clinton could still be impeached. (Yeah. And the Bucs could win the Superbowl, too.) However, impeachment is no longer the issue. Bill Clinton is no longer the issue. We have a much bigger problem than the fact that the leader of the free world is a sociopath. Namely: the fact that only eleven people care.

So, I humbly submit the possibility that the American people, once again, are dead wrong. The American people (sixty percent of them, anyway) have sold their souls for the price of a sports utility vehicle. As long as their personal financial worlds are not rocked, the president can high crime and misdemeanor from now till Judgement Day, and we'll just call it none of our business. (And ON Judgement Day, I guess he can just explain to God how well the economy was doing while he was busy breaking every major commandment. Come to think of it, I'd like to opt for that plan, too. "Yes God, I know I really screwed up, but have You seen my stock portfolio?")

Since everyone seems to have forgotten this fact, I would like to point out that there used to be issues other than the economy that determined whether or not the president was doing a good job. Please indulge me for a moment while I point out a couple of the other things we used to care about.

(1) Foreign policy. Used to be a biggie on the list of areas in which we liked to see a president excel. I will leave alone the subjective topics, like whether or not there is any connection between scandal highlights and our pressing need to bomb caves in Albania. And I won't bother you with charts and graphs about the relationship between Clinton's domestic woes and the military buildup in the middle east. The pertinent remaining fact is this: the Commander-in-Chief has played "this time we REALLY REALLY mean it" with Sadam Hussein until we are an international joke. And God only knows how much nerve gas has been shuffled between "presidential palaces" while Clinton has drawn meaningless lines in the sand.

I should acknowledge the fact that I am not objective on this issue. I have a nephew who is an Air Force top gun, over there right now, a pawn in Clinton's ridiculous war games. He was supposed to be home for Thanksgiving. He wasn't. If the articles of impeachment pass, he will be lucky if he is home for Easter. Can I tell you how angry it makes me that Clinton is playing with the lives of peoples' sons and daughters and nieces and nephews and husbands and wives, just to make sure his approval ratings stay high? And since he is not exactly up for re-election, could someone explain to me what, other than pathological self-obsession, that is about?

(2) Your hard-earned tax dollars. Since we have established that money is the one thing people do care about... This administration has been one long chain of independent counsels and grand juries and investigations, all of which have cost a fortune in money that could have gone to the social security crisis, or education reform, or any of the other legitimate pressing concerns that Clinton claims to care so deeply about.

(3) Freedom of the press. I guess it depends on how you define "freedom." Bill Clinton and his henchmen have manipulated, spun and otherwise pretzeled the national news media until it has lost an alarming amount of the public's respect and trust, and, in fact, journalists are now thought of as the problem, instead of what they really are -- the only thing standing in between us and a totalitarian government. (Assuming, for the sake of argument, that we don't already have one.)

(4) We the People. This democracy may never be the same, if that bothers anybody. This is not alarmist hoopla. We are as cynical as we are today, in large part, because we lived through Vietnam and Watergate. So who knows where the current garbage will eventually lead us.

The office of the president may never recover. May never again command the dignity and respect it deserves. Our (already substantially eroded) patriotic ideals may have been dealt the death blow. That might seem minor, until you think about the fact that this country exists because of a bunch of idealistic patriots with a lofty vision. When we compromise that vision (chiefly because we no longer care to make the sacrifice it demands) we compromise who we are. Anyone who has ever made that mistake on a personal level knows where it leads. It is a steady decay of the soul, until you can't even remember what your dreams and aspirations used to be. It is a settling that turns the joyful desire to thrive into the weary battle to get by. An ironic legacy, from a man who "believes in a place called Hope."

Forty-seven thousand Boeing employees are about to spend a Christmas re-thinking what really matters; weighing the value of things that can't be bought and sold (and therefore, can't be threatened by Bill Clinton or Alan Greenspan.) The rest of us could do well to do some similar soul-searching. We need to take a hard look at the real price of protecting the economy at all costs. Are low interest rates really worth our ethics, our dignity, our self-respect? Is our standard of living measured only in dollars and cents? So what if we can buy our kids everything they want this Christmas?

We need to stop and ask ourselves, what are we robbing from them in return?

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