Did U.S. President Bill Clinton have a sexual relationship with a 21-year-old White House intern, Monica Lewinsky? Did he instruct her to lie about it under oath?

That’s what the world is anxious to know. What made these allegations grab so much public attention, in the U.S. and abroad, is that they are considered believable yet unbelievable.

The allegations are believable given Clinton’s reputation as a liar and adulterer, and the many scandals that have rocked his presidency — Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate, Chinagate (Campaign Finance), Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones.

What many find unbelievable is that Clinton could be so reckless as to risk his presidency to satisfy his adulterous appetite, especially after the Flowers and Jones scandals. As William Saffire, renowned columnist for the New York Times, wrote: “[Clinton] should be presumed innocent not merely on high-minded judicial principle, but because it’s hard to conceive of this deft politician being so reckless ….” [Published in Globe and Mail, Jan. 23.]

Saffire is dead wrong. Clinton’s so-called deftness as a politician explains these allegations. Clinton became president not because he is a deft man of principle, but because he is a deft pragmatist, one who skillfully monitors (and manipulates) public opinion, and alters his “principles” accordingly.

Pragmatism, the philosophy dominating modern politics, involves eschewing principles in the name of “doing what will work.” The classic example of a pragmatist was Britain’s then Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, who abandoned principles to appease Hitler’s power lust by giving him Czechoslovakia, all in the name of peace. The result was war. Without principles, one cannot identify what will and won’t work.

Pragmatism eschews valid moral principles, such as honesty, integrity and justice, which leads to a policy of “doing whatever I can get away with.” If elections can be won by making promises one knows one can’t keep, or deliberately generating false hope about disastrous and wasteful schemes like Medicare and Social Security, or accepting financial contributions from Chinese dictators, or lying about adulterous affairs (such as with Gennifer Flowers), then do it. Clinton’s latest big lie was his claim in his recent State of the Union speech that “We have the smallest government in 35 years.”

How does one know if one will get away with lying or adultery? Ultimately, by feelings. Pragmatism sinks to: “Do I feel that I will get away with it this time?” If one is impulsively driven by strong adulterous urges and gets away with satisfying them once, that builds “confidence” to try again. “Success” at fooling others breeds recklessness, and a perverted feeling of triumph over others and over reality. According to Gennifer Flowers, Clinton once asked her to have sex in a bathroom at the Arkansas’ governor’s mansion while his wife and 50 guests were outside on the lawn. (CNN — Larry King Live, Jan. 23, 1998.) Imagine the “triumphant” feeling of getting away with that!

Clinton’s “political deftness” or pragmatism explains his immorality and recklessness, and is fully compatible with the Lewinsky sex allegations made against him, true or not.

Why does pragmatism dominate American politics today? Why has the White House gone from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton? The answer lies in the transformation that took place since America’s birth.

America was founded on the principles of individual rights — the right to life, liberty, private property and the pursuit of happiness. The sole purpose of government was to protect such rights.

Today, individual rights are sacrificed to the demands of various pressure groups — seniors, students, farmers, “workers,” businessmen, environmentalists, anti-smokers, etc. As one group’s demands are granted at the expense of everyone else, other groups increase their lobbying efforts. The net result: all out pressure-group warfare, where the politician gets swamped by competing and contradictory demands.

Such an arena repels politicians of moral integrity. Who are attracted? Those lacking moral integrity — those pragmatic expedients who feel they can “succeed” without the guidance of moral principles. Not George Washington but Bill Clinton.

How does a politician cope? Enter pragmatism. Forget upholding principles such as individual rights, for that merely attracts the wrath of those pressure groups wanting to violate others’ rights. The pragmatic way to “succeed” is to eschew individual rights, appease the pressure-group demands and plead for compromise, which is precisely Clinton’s political philosophy and policy.

Even if a politician entered the arena of pressure-group warfare intent on preserving his moral integrity, he could not preserve it. He’d have to abandon moral principles to protect his constituency from being devoured by pressure groups.

Such an arena repels politicians of moral integrity. Who are attracted? Those lacking moral integrity — those pragmatic expedients who feel they can “succeed” without the guidance of moral principles. Not George Washington but Bill Clinton.

Pragmatism and the sacrifice of individual rights to pressure-group demands have led to the proliferation of unprincipled and immoral politicians.

Unsurprisingly, Americans have grown deeply cynical about morality in politics. They no longer expect to get politicians of high moral stature, and complacently “tolerate” immorality in their president.

The Lewinsky scandal (Zippergate?) shows the danger of this moral complacency. The allegations, being believable, caused an explosion that reverberated around the world, disgracing America’s presidency, demoralizing its citizens, and threatening to paralyze and impeach the world’s most powerful political leader — all at a time when he had to deal with a murderous dictator in Iraq who was busy amassing weapons of mass destruction.

If Americans want to once again elect a president who is both practical and moral, a president they can trust and revere, a Washington or Jefferson, they must reject pragmatism and demand a return to the principles on which America was founded — man’s inalienable individual rights.

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Glenn Woiceshyn

Glenn Woiceshyn is a freelance writer, residing in Calgary. Visit his education resources website at Powerful Minds.