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The Devil’s Own

(Reprinted from The Wanderer, October 8, 1998; “Washington Watch”)

“I’ve hesitated to say this,” a friend told me the other day, “but I keep wondering if Clinton isn’t literally Satanic.” Coming from an intellectually rigorous man who measures his words carefully, this startled me. I asked him to explain. Did he mean Clinton is a conscious agent of the Devil?

“Well,” he said, “a saint doesn’t think of himself as a saint. He just habitually obeys God’s will until he is so close to God that God constantly acts through him. Maybe it’s the same way with a man who gets too close to the Devil. After a while he becomes the Devil’s instrument.”

An interesting thought. Civility requires us to presume the good faith of those we disagree with, in politics and elsewhere. But of course this is no more than a polite fiction. Sometimes our opponents are cynical people who take advantage of this presumption in order to deceive us. In that case we don’t owe them the benefit of doubt.

Clinton has always been notable and notorious for slippery language. Is it overwrought to suspect him of more than that?

Under pressure, Clinton lies, feigns innocence and moral indignation, evades, equivocates, quibbles, and dissembles in every imaginable way. His absurd semantics in his grand jury testimony — even the word “is” became problematic — have become a joke. But maybe it’s no laughing matter.

Language is not just a means of conveying information and feelings; it’s a moral bond. It depends on honor, sincerity, loyalty, and trust. Clinton habitually exploits our presumption of these qualities in order to “betray us in deepest consequence,” as Banquo warns Macbeth about the witches’ prophecies, though those prophecies may be literally true (or “legally accurate”). Clinton even betrays his own family. Nobody can trust him.

For eight months he used the entire executive branch, including his cabinet, to purvey a self-serving lie. He didn’t merely make a pro forma denial and clam up; he organized and drove a furious campaign of deceit. That’s enough to mark him as an evil man. But he has done much more, and his long trail of slime leads back to Arkansas. His sexual sins are only one of many signs of a deeply disordered soul. But they tell us less than his mendacity; he is a son of the Father of Lies.

Posing as a Christian, carrying and quoting the Bible (Shakespeare also reminds us that the Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose), Clinton has shown conviction on only one issue: abortion. Here again we have something more than an honest difference of opinion. In Arkansas, until the early 1980s, Clinton publicly opposed abortion, though Gennifer Flowers says he gave her $200 to abort their child. He reversed his position as soon as he deemed it politically opportune.

Are we really supposed to believe that abortion advocates are driven by an abstract belief about when life begins? Our biology teachers, without deferring to theology, taught us, before abortion became a subject of political contention, that life begins at conception. It’s a simple matter of fact that two parents combine, in the higher animals, to generate offspring, and conception means the precise point when this occurs.

The phony professions of doubt about this are exactly like the phony professions of Clinton’s partisans that they believed his transparent lies (and their equally phony professions of belief that he is now really, really sorry he lied). Clinton and his ilk are willing to kill children on the very verge of birth, and the phrase “partial-birth abortion” concedes too much: it isn’t “abortion” except in a “legally accurate” sense. It’s the murder of an infant. The technique of extracting the brains and crushing the skull was developed precisely to stay within the law as the U.S. Supreme Court has warped it.

Too much is at stake for us to continue granting the benefit of doubt to people who deal with us in bad faith. They don’t have different “beliefs” about embryos and fetuses; they simply don’t care whether abortion is evil. And if they lie about that, they’ll lie about anything.

Clinton’s defenders are warning that his enemies are intent on staging what the lawyer Alan Dershowitz calls “a Christian coup.” And they point to abortion as the crucial issue. If Clinton falls, abortion may become illegal again! The theme has been repeated so often that there can be no doubt that abortion is at the heart of their fanaticism.

How can there be so much moral passion on the side of evil? Again, it’s hard to doubt the diabolical element: rejection of Christ and rebellion against God, which involves even the denial of nature.

It was sad to learn that Henry Hyde, who has been such an exemplary public man, had once had an adulterous affair. But Hyde, being a Catholic, accepts a moral standard given by God and inherent in nature. He didn’t lie or justify himself when the fact was published. That’s the disadvantage of the Christian side: we expect to be judged by norms we didn’t create or edit to suit our desires.

The liberal side, by contrast, claims the right to choose a self-serving moral code. Barney Frank can’t be blackmailed, because he’s an open and self-righteous pervert. But liberals don’t merely decide the standard they themselves wish to be judged by. They use that standard to sit in judgment over the past; they want to rule today’s society by that same standard; and they want to use that standard to shape the future, starting with our children. At the same time, they accuse Christians of bigotry and arrogance for submitting to the traditional standard.

In a “pluralistic” society, the heretic has the upper hand. He decides what constitutes “consensus”: it means whatever he chooses to accept from the traditional code. Whatever he rejects becomes, by his volition, “sectarian,” and to insist on it is to “impose one’s views.” He refuses to recognize God’s law, or natural law, as a coherent whole. He asserts his prerogative to take it apart as he pleases. He may agree to keep the old rules about rape, but not the rules about sodomy; he will continue to forbid some kinds of murder, but he finds others acceptable.

Old-fashioned Christians find the heretic confusing and baffling to deal with, because he maintains an illusory partial agreement with them. They don’t realize that even the areas of seeming agreement are, for him, matters not of obligation but of mere convenience. He pretends they are matters of obligation so that Christians will remain submissive to the “consensus.”

The heretic may even be, in his arbitrary way, very militant on some points of his mutilated morality, so long as they serve his purposes; but for him morality is ultimately manipulable, because he is his own lawgiver, his own god.

Thanks to modern education, this sort of heretic is no longer a very exceptional type. The polls show he’s quite common. And his idea of a good Christian is Bill Clinton. Maybe that’s what this fight is all about.

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