I supported President Clinton during his term. I did not like him or agree much with him, but I supported him. I write this in response to the predictable backlash of liberal bile to my statement Friday that, like it or not, President George W. Bush carries the full authority of his office, and those who refuse to acknowledge his authority are refusing to serve their country. As hard as that may be for Democrats and Liberals to accept now with Bush in office, it was just as true when Clinton held the office. I am not advocating supreme power for the President, and anyone paying attention would have understood that; Richard Nixon in 1974, then Clinton in his time, paid for the excess of their behavior through proper channels and Constitutional process. The thing to understand however, is that even an impeached President Clinton remained President Clinton until and unless he was convicted in the Senate. As it happens, Bill Clinton was never convicted in the Senate, and therefore continued to serve the remainder of his term. In Nixon’s case, of course, he chose to resign his office rather than face Impeachment – it impossible to know whether or not Nixon would have been convicted after being impeached, but it is hardly relevant to the main point here – Richard Nixon resigned his office, and was fully President of the United States right up to the instant that Gerald Ford took the Oath of Office. Like him or not, he was the President.
It’s a difficult thing for some people to accept, that the President should be a man of consequence specifically because he won the office. I read one commenter who actually separated his reverence for the office from the man, which is laughable. The President of the United States is a person, and respect for his authority comes specifically to the man because he holds the office. It is that dishonest attempt to suggest that some Presidents should be respected and others not. How convenient, and how utterly disingenuous. Many of the comments I read in Wizbang! jumped right to the assumption of their choice, with only one reader stopping to consider the context of my statements. Since that task proved to be beyond the ability of some readers, I will walk them through the matter here.
Here is what I said, precisely, in the most volatile statement: “George W. Bush is the President of the United States. Him, no one else. You either back him up or you are not supporting America. Yes, he earned that support, by getting elected. Like it or not, it comes with the job.” Yes, taken emotionally that statement is going to set people off, but if you stop and think it through, a different concept emerges. First off, you have to understand the context. It’s a favorite sport of critics to rip something out of its place in a discussion or essay, and twist it to serve whatever Gumby Rhetoric game they want to play. But in the Friday essay, I took pains to point out the difference between people speaking with the authority of their office and people shooting off their mouth on nothing more than their arrogance. Sure, we all enjoy Free Speech – although the Left did not like the idea of ABC exercising that right last week – but having the right to say something banal and stupid does not give the boor the same authority as the person who knows of what they speak. And the President of the United States holds unique authority, by right of his position and the quality of being elected President. He is by no means absolute, yet he holds clear and valid authority beyond any other individual person in the American government. You do not have the right to treat him like a light switch, granting him his authority or not as you choose. No matter what party, background, or circumstances, so long as he holds the office the President of the United States innately holds authority. No matter whomever else you or I might hope to see in that office, the President of the United States – while serving – holds real and specific authority to speak for the United States. Now, the prickly part of my statement, I think, was my demand that “you either back him up or you are not supporting America”. That was actually a carefully chosen phrase. I did not mean that he could not be criticized, and I never said so if you actually pay attention. I certainly did not mean that he was free to do whatever he wished – the Constitution makes clear the specific powers and limits of the President, as Presidents Clinton and Nixon have discovered. When I said “back him up”, I meant that we are at war, and the President is the leader of the United States at war. “Leader”, as in he sets the course and commits us to certain actions. “Leader” as in, whether or not we are happy about it, we are careful to consider the effects of things like divisiveness and personal attacks which embolden our enemies, be they terrorists, Communists, Nazis, or Redcoats, depending on your frame of reference. As an example, John Adams was not happy at all with many of Jefferson’s actions as President in regards to Europe, but he was very careful in what he said, and to support Jefferson while he was in office. During World War 2, many Republicans took issue with a lot of FDR’s policies and war plans, but they made sure to maintain the public image of solidarity – certainly no one compared Roosevelt to the enemy, or demanded that we quit the fight. Like it or not, whether we are talking about George W. Bush, his dad, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, or any other President, while they held office they were the Commander-In-Chief, a title which means the President if your superior officer, even if you are not in uniform. As it is said and must be repeated, elections matter, and never more than when a President is chosen.
When America goes to war, it must be a decision made clearly and for a specific reason. If for nothing else, this is why all American wars begin with a decision by the President to go to war. And while the Congress may react to it in ways which limit that war in scope, duration, or objective, it is the President who leads that war. This is why Truman was right to sack MacArthur, whether or not one supported MacArthur's plan. This is why that general who went to the press to complain about President Clinton was wrong - the President is the guy in charge. It's a fine line, Free Speech - on the one hand yes, every American enjoys Freedom of Speech, but there are consequences for what and how people use it, and when someone refuses to accept the authority of the President, this gives comfort to America's enemies and weakens American resolve. One need look no further than the War in Vietnam to see how treason can kill our soldiers and allies.
Some people have whined that my statement would deny them their right to criticize the President or hold dissenting opinions. Not at all. The question what someone believes, but what they do about it. As I said, the Congress and the Courts both hold authority to limit the President's power, as well as proper authority to stand against him when they believe he is wrong. And obviously, popular opinion is a factor in how Congress and the Courts work (for all their claims to objectivity, many judges are just as partial and influenced by popular moods as anyone else). But that does not justify personal slander against the man, or fraudulent movies in a blatant attempt to sway elections, or publicly and repeatedly suggesting that the leader of the United States should be arrested or assassinated, simply because some perverted group gets its jollies by such suggestions. Whether or not the law allows it, such conduct is abhorrent to the American nature, and corrodes the national will. This does not matter which political party is so targeted.
Also, as has been repeatedly reminded and just as often ignored by boors and thugs who cannot manage a comprehensive evaluation of international cultural development, the Global War On Terror is a new kind of war, driven not by American designs or provocations, but the cruel and bitter fruit of Mahdi-ism, more commonly referred to as Islamofascism. Whether or not a person agrees with why we went to Iraq, it is imperative, on a scale nearly impossible to exaggerate, that we do not leave without a stable and self-sufficient Iraq. It is imperative that we deal with Iran before their malicious plans can develop. It is imperative that we demonstrate that Terrorism exported will simply come back on its creators. And sorry Bush-haters, that means you have to grow up and accept that Bush is a legitimate President, doing a tough-as-hell job with damn little support. If you can't cut him some slack, you will be sorry for it later.
With that said, I return to the subject of Bill Clinton. As I said earlier, I neither like nor respect him, and I found many of his decisions poor. And when he won the White House in the 1992 election, I was bitter and disappointed, especially since that meant the Presidency, the Congress, and the Courts were all in Liberal hands. So yeah, I understand how Democrats feel, to a degree.
But I got over it. I did not have to like the man, for Clinton to be President. He won the election, even with just 43% of the vote. So I supported him, even where I disagreed with him. I even argued with my Republican friends when some of the nutters went over the top, with Hillary-shot-Vince-Foster conspiracies and Whitewater-sold-secrets-to-China innmuendo, and so on. Make no mistake, Clinton got himself impeached on his own fault, just like Nixon did himself in on Watergate all on his own. But I never, not once, made personal fun of Bill Clinton, I never suggested he should be killed or that he did not the authority for his decisions as President.
I know it's all the rage these days to laugh at Clinton and trash him for decisions he made regarding Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. But we have to remember that in 1996, we had no way of knowing what, precisely, Al Qaeda was up to, or what the consequences of a given action would bring. In his place, yes, I think I would have made different decisions, but I have to stop and accept that only Clinton sat in the seat to make those calls when the time came, and only Clinton had to carry those choices with him. Reagan had Lebanon to regret, so is it really appropriate to expect Bill Clinton to have anticipated 9/11? We Republicans accept that Bush had limited knowledge before the 9/11 attacks came, but even with more time, Clinton was depending on his CIA and FBI people to tell him solid information. It's easy to look back afterwards and point fingers, but I am reluctant to do so. For a fact, I will not give Clinton credit for things he never got right, but I respect the weight of the office, and even half a decade after he left office, William Jefferson Clinton is still a man who was twice elected to the White House. That still counts, even if there is no way I would ever trust him with my vote, or Hillary.
Maybe this is all to difficult to accept for some people. There are people who just cannot cope without having a strawman to hate, some phantom they can heckle in order to make themselves feel good. Some people just cannot grant respect to an opponent, and they would rather be their worst than grant that there is good on the other side.