REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS impeached the president for doing what Republicans would have loved to have done if the Mrs. hadn't hidden the Viagra and the intern hadn't cracked the Republican across the face with a Prada backpack full of cell phone batteries. Congressional Democrats know Democratic voters are so dumb that they think they got their jobs at Burger King because Clinton was dating the cow. So Democrats defended a no-account, conniving jerk who uses the wadded-up principles of liberalism to pad the bulge in his political jeans. The first lady, realizing that her high-profile role in a Gore administration would be making balloon animals at birthday parties for Tipper's kids, embraced that paragon among husbands and fathers, Bill. The stud-puppy himself ran off to view as much tornado damage as possible. That way, when he looked like a sorry sack of crap, he looked like he was sorry for someone other than himself. And the media took time off from prodding the corpse of Princess Diana, looking up Gwyneth Paltrow's skirt, and going through the garbage behind the JonBenet Ramsey home to wax sanctimonious about how intrusive, sex-mad, and trashy Washington had become. The legacy of the Clinton impeachment scandal has become clear -- a bequest of enormous hypocrisy to the nation.
And it's about time. We could use some. If you look up hypocrisy in the great, big Webster's Unabridged . . . Which we know Bill Clinton uses because he said, "It depends on what your definition of the word 'is' is," and the to be verb gets nine and a half column inches in there, plus the White House has two copies what with Donna Shalala and Madeleine Albright needing to sit on them to reach the table during cabinet meetings. Anyway, if you look up hypocrisy you'll find it means pretending to be what one is not or to have principles or beliefs that one does not have, from the Greek hypokrisis, playing a part on the stage. Republicans, Democrats, Hillary, Bill, and CNN have been acting -- acting as if they know right from wrong, good from bad, etc. This is great. It means they have some notion of the difference. Until a year ago they didn't.
Before the advent of Monica Lewinsky, Republicans earnestly believed they were fulfilling their Contract with America by attending meetings of the Council of Conservative Citizens and playing dead during budget debates. Democrats were sincere and fervid in their battle against the woes of the Great Depression and had no idea that the thing had been over for 56 years. Hillary was trying to rebuild the Berlin Wall brick-by-social-program-brick, in pious obedience to the tenets of Wellesley-chick socialism. Bill truly felt he was beloved, even by Hillary. And the TV networks actually thought that the hair farmers behind the anchor desks knew what they were talking about.
It's nice to have that behind us. Furthermore, being a hypocrite looks good compared with being the one person who has been absolutely plain-spoken and forthright during the Lewinsky affair: Larry Flynt.
Hypocrisy, as a concept, has needed this boost. It's been the pariah among late 20th century sins. The Seven Deadly Dittos have all been fashionable. Envy and covetousness in the Reagan administration. Anger whenever it's convenient to swat Saddam Hussein. And then there's lust, pride, sloth, and gluttony, or, as we call them these days, getting in touch with your sexuality, raising your self-esteem, relaxation therapy, and being a recovered bulimic. Accuse a person of breaking all Ten Commandments and you've written the promo blurb for the dust cover of his tell-all memoir. Call somebody a sleaze and a prick and you've hired him as your lawyer. But everyone is ashamed of the hypocrite tag.
Perhaps this is part of the cult of authenticity to which we orthodontically corrected, surgically enhanced, hair-implanted, and Prozaced moderns adhere. Or maybe informing significant others that they look like hell in a bathing suit and need to diet is simply more fun than clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. Hypocrisy "is the vice of vices," declared Hannah Arendt, supposedly one of the most prominent moral philosophers of our time. "Only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core," Arendt said -- and so did a whole bunch of teenage daughters dressed in black, with pierced eyebrows, stamping their platform shoes on the Ikea kilim in the open-plan kitchen/great room, shrieking, "You and mom did drugs! You and mom screwed around! You are such hypocrites!"
This is why it's vital for Washington to show leadership in the hypocrisy field, because I'm afraid I might be raising one of those daughters. True, she's only one, but in thirteen brief years I will be faced with the awkward task of explaining to my kid why she should behave like Gidget while I, at her age, was paging through On the Road, Funkie, and The 120 Days of Sodom with a highlighter pen, making a list of things to do before I shot my family.
Of course there are artifacts of popular culture such as Pinocchio and Liar Liar to warn children what a world without hypocrisy would be like -- like a syrupy movie plot and a botched nose job. (Although, when perfect truth-telling is attempted, snout difficulties usually come from getting punched rather than Jiminy Cricket-induced growth spurts.) But rented videotapes do not have the same impact as the living example of an entire capital city full of the nation's highest elected officials and most prominent arbiters of opinion blowing smoke out their fundaments.
The American political establishment must be thanked for the time and effort it put into getting the impeachment right, with extra kudos to feminists for providing a model of the sophistry, casuistic self-justification, and talking-out-of-both-sides-of-the-mouth so necessary in the crucial parenting years. I mean, I almost had to tell my child an outright lie. (You shouldn't take drugs because when I was young I overdosed and died horribly choking on my own vomit.) Or worse, I almost had to tell my child the truth. (Yes, I was a hippie, but looking back on it I wish I had joined the Marine Corps -- because drugs were cheaper in Vietnam.) Now I know that all I have to do is be full of it. And this, as a middle-aged dad, I already am.
To prove it, let me note that when the Cardinal Virtues are named -- wisdom, courage, temperance, justice, faith, hope, charity -- the list does not end with "and no b.s." If you put on a big show of being deep-thinking, brave, prudent, just, faithful, and optimistic, then that's pretty much what you are -- or close enough for government work, as we have seen. And it's hard to fake charity if everybody saw you put that five-spot in the crippled beggar's cup. Unless you run back and snatch it out, but you'd better be quick. Some of those crippled beggars can really move.
Then, let us also consider what the impeachment process would have been like if all the participants had been brutally honest:
REPUBLICANS: Don't you understand what a criminal this president is? He stole our issues. He swiped our illegal campaign donors. He nabbed the interns with the bonus bazoombas.
DEMOCRATS: If the opinion polls told us dogs had a 75 percent approval rating, we'd be on Larry King Live licking our privates.
THE PRESS: We did that! Slurp! Slurp! Right on national TV! And there's nothing you can do about it! Nobody elects us! Nobody impeaches us! We're the Rottweilers on the porch! Now watch us pee on Christopher Hitchens's leg!
CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST: I'm naked from the waist down under this robe.
P. J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.