Courage and Fashion
May 4, 2000
and then Im praised for my supposed courage. I always blush
at this compliment, because, knowing myself, I know how far from the
truth it really is. There is no quality I honor more than courage, and there
is nobody, except Christ himself, whom I admire more than the Christian
martyrs who died under torture to bear witness to their faith. And I pray
that I will never be put to the real test.
In fact, I could say that the reason I
write as I do is that I hope I will never live in a society in which I will
have to be truly brave. But we are headed for just such a society. The proof
is that some people think I am brave.
an odd compliment people pay me! We are told that America is the
land of the free, where our freedom of speech is protected by the
First Amendment and a tradition of tolerance; yet people assume that it
takes guts to speak up against liberal dogma, to criticize Israel, to
mention certain obvious facts about race and sex, to point out that
homosexuality is a perversion, and so forth. If we enjoy full
freedom of expression, why should anyone be afraid to say
anything? In particular, why, in a society in which a swine like Larry Flynt
can become a multimillionaire and a friend of the president, are people
especially afraid to offend certain minorities?
Something is going on here that our
official gabble of free speech doesnt begin to explain. First
Amendment or no, most Americans are deeply afraid to say what they
think. And when they see someone who isnt afraid, they conclude
that he must have the courage of a lion.
On the other hand, as usual, there is
Bill Clinton. Clinton is a perfect specimen of bogus courage the
sort of guy who says things that are now safe and even fashionable with
an air of jut-jawed determination that suggests he would have said them
when they were not only unfashionable, but dangerous to espouse. In fact
he has even told us that when he was nine years old, he and his little
friends, in solidarity with Rosa Parks, rode in the backs of buses in
Clinton is only a parody of many other
liberals who want us to believe that their willingness to conform to
todays fashions is proof that they would have had the courage to
defy yesterdays fashions. Somehow I find it hard to believe that
todays coward would have been yesterdays hero, if only
hed had the chance. More likely he would have been, like most
people, a timid conformist in any circumstances.
Hard as I try, I cant imagine
Clinton dying a martyrs death under any regime. At risk of seeming
cynical about this selfless public servant, I find it easy to imagine him as
a glib opportunist in any environment. My cynicism was only confirmed
when the former antiwar idealist, elevated to the post of commander in
chief of the armed forces, started bombing remote places as impeachment
loomed. If hed had any residue of his former scruples against
undeclared wars, he might at least have asked Congress to
authorize hostilities, as the Constitution requires; but of course the
Constitution is a living document, superbly adaptable to the needs of the
Clintons style remains equally
homiletic no matter what side he happens to be on at a given moment. And
whichever side he takes, he takes for the most moral of reasons. His
self-justifications are as fluent as they are forgettable. He always speaks
with the same iron conviction he displayed when he denied having carnal
relations with that woman.
Though men like Clinton imply that
they would have been willing to be martyrs for todays fashions in
other times, its typical of them that they can never really imagine
themselves on the losing side in history. They can only imagine
themselves fighting bravely for what would eventually be the winning
side. They waste no sentiment on lost causes, however noble; they feel it
was always their destiny to fight for todays causes.
What does a Clinton really believe in?
You might as well ask a chameleon to tell you its favorite color.
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