The Clash Over Clinton

Once again, a political figure has been accused of womanizing. The press is buzzing over revelations that Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Clinton may have had an extra-marital affair. What the press is buzzing about, though, is the wrong question. A lot of reporters are asking whether it is proper even to cover these reports of Governor Clinton's marital infidelity--whether that's an invasion of his private life. Well, certainly, people don't need to hear all the salacious details. But people do need to know the basic facts of the case. Because in politics, character is crucial. When you vote for someone, you're not just voting for what he stands for today. You're also voting for what you think he'll stand for tomorrow, when the issues have shifted. Over time, circumstances change; issues change; policies change. The only thing that doesn't change is a politician's underlying commitments and character. That's why voters need to know all the clues to his character. You see, a man who will break his word in one area of life is more likely to do it in other areas of life as well. A column in the New York Times explains it this way: "If Governor Clinton has not been able to keep his marital vows, voters might rightly wonder whether he could be trusted to keep campaign promises or uphold his oath of office." It's a matter of trust. If Clinton's wife can't trust him, can the nation trust him? Now, some commentators are trying to dismiss all the hubbub. Their line is, so what if someone strays in his personal life. That doesn't affect his public performance. But that argument doesn't wash. In fact, the truth is actually the other way around. Our public behavior grows out of our personal behavior. Think of it. A man's wife is a living, breathing human being whom he knows and sees. If he can't keep his commitment to her, how is he going to keep his commitments to a vague abstraction like "the nation"? If he isn't loyal to his own wife, how is he going to be loyal to a faceless mass called "the voters" or "the taxpayers"? Remember the old saying: Our job is not to love Mankind in general--that's easy. The hard job is to love the particular, flesh-and-blood man who is our neighbor. A person who has not been schooled in the hard job of loving the people God has placed in the intimate circles of his life--his family, his church, his job--that person is not ready to lead the nation. That's why Jesus said if you are faithful in the small things, you'll be faithful in the big things. It's in the small circle of our personal relationships where we develop character traits of loyalty and commitment. I don't mean that committing adultery automatically disqualifies someone like Bill Clinton from political leadership. I, of all people, know that sins can be forgiven if we truly repent, make restitution, and show the fruits of repentance in our lives. So the press may debate the ethics of what they should or should not cover. And certainly, candidates are entitled to a zone of privacy from tabloid smears. But when it's a question of character, voters have a right to know.


Chuck Colson


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