Bill Clinton: A Presidential Paradox

Wayne Jackson
The ex-president’s high popularity is perplexing in light of his moral failures. This article addresses this paradox.

William Jefferson Clinton has now vacated the office of the presidency of the United States. He has stepped down from that prestigious role, but he has impacted American culture tremendously—not for the better, but for the worse.

According to recent polls, he leaves the highest office of the land with a 65% approval rating—eclipsing even Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy. Sadly, for many he has made moral vileness respectable.

A candid evaluation cannot but affirm that his high approval marks represent a graphic index of the low that is characteristic of America’s spiritual climate. It is a classic paradox—up really points down.

George Will is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist whose essays appear in hundreds of newspapers; he is also a regular writer for Newsweek magazine. In a recent piece, Will declared: “Clinton is not the worst president the republic has had, but he is the worst person ever to have been president.”

The popular conservative writer summarizes some of the former president’s blemishes.

It is reasonable to believe he was a rapist 15 years before becoming president, and that as president he launched cruise missiles against Afghanistan (a nearly empty terrorist camp), Sudan (a pharmaceutical factory) and Iraq to distract attention from problems arising from the glandular dimension of his general indiscipline. As president he was fined $90,000 for contempt of court, and there is no reasonable doubt that he committed and suborned perjury, tampered with witnesses and otherwise obstructed justice. In the words of Richard A. Posner, chief judge of the 7th Circuit, Clinton’s illegalities “were felonious, numerous and nontechnical” and “constituted a kind of guerrilla warfare against the third branch of the federal government, the federal court system.”

How can a person—so morally bankrupt and so patently arrogant—have such a high approval quotient? Because he is but a reflection of the degenerative conscience of this nation. The content of a nation’s character is mirrored in the type of leaders they applaud—and also in the sort they attempt to vilify unjustly.

Consider the biblical case of Saul, son of Kish, who ruled for forty years as ancient Israel’s premier king.

The Old Testament reveals the facts of the case: The Israelite people were tired of God as their ruler. He was too strict. His religious and moral requirements were more rigorous than the wicked Hebrews were willing to tolerate. Hence, they approached the aging Samuel with a plea for a new administration (1 Samuel 8:5).

Jehovah acceded to their wishes (1 Samuel 8:22; cf. 12:13) that they might have the opportunity of ingesting the fruit of their own rebellion—though he was not pleased with their decision (cf. Hosea 13:11). In time, Saul proved himself to be a miserable wretch. He was egotistically rebellious (1 Samuel 13:8ff; 15:9) and finally the kingdom was wrested from him. The point being he was but a manifestation of the perversity of his age.

In this connection, Samuel uttered an astounding prophecy: The day would come when the Lord would choose another ruler. This time, it would be a “man after his [Jehovah’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). David eventually filled that role (cf. Acts 13:22). Though David had weaknesses of his own, he was of an entirely different temperament than his predecessor (see his penitential songs in Psalms 31 and 51).

There appears to be little doubt that our new president will be a moral improvement over the former. Let us pray that he also will lead the nation courageously to a more exalted ethical plateau—rather than merely playing the political game of attempting to carve a personal niche in the archives of history.