In February 1994, CT's Philip Yancey and David Neff joined President Bill Clinton and a host of dignitaries in listening to a bracing moral lecture from the late Mother Teresa. Her passion for truth trumped any concern she might have had for the feelings of the powerful gathered in the Washington Hilton ballroom. Later that same day, Neff and Yancey interviewed the President in the Oval Office and the presidential limousine. In writing up that interview (CT, Apr. 25, 1994, p. 24), Yancey contrasted Mother Teresa's bold loyalty to truth with the President's perennial penchant for taking his cues from the crowd.
That interview in the limo was a metaphorical moment: as Neff and Yancey questioned him about his views on abortion, a distracted President scanned the sidewalks, waving to people. He seemed to need constant affirmation, and the likelihood was low that he would deal with Mother Teresa's bracing slap with the hand of righteousness.
In 1994 we saw a politician eager to give the people what they want. On August 17 of this year we saw the same thing: the President's polls showed that the people would forgive him for having sex with an intern, but that they favored impeachment for perjury. So the President gave the people what he thought they wanted—so he could get what he wanted. In a televised nonapology, the President owned up to the "inappropriate relationship" with Monica Lewinsky, but hid behind weasel words on the issue of perjury.
The President was wrong. When he offered the nation his grudging statement of regret and then proceeded to blame others for his troubles, he shed his last shred of moral authority. That moral authority had been based in part on his famous compassion. But that Clintonian compassion was ...1
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