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Vitter '98: Clinton Morally Unfit to Govern

The Nation story:

In the fall of 1998, David Vitter felt compelled to weigh in on the national debate over the possible impeachment of President Bill Clinton for lying about sex. Vitter was not yet a member of Congress; he was a Republican state representative. And in an October 29, 1998, opinion piece for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Vitter took issue with a previous article, written by two law professors who had argued that impeachment "is a process of removing a president from office who can no longer effectively govern; it is not about punishment." Given that Clinton was still a capable chief executive, they had maintained, impeachment was not in order.

Vitter, a graduate of Harvard University and Tulane law school and a Rhodes scholar, was aghast at this amoral position. He blasted the law professors for criticizing those congressional Republicans pushing for Clinton's impeachment. Their argument that impeachment is "not primarily about right and wrong or moral fitness to govern," he wrote, was utterly wrongheaded. He continued:

Some current polls may suggest that people are turned off by the whole Clinton mess and don't care -- because the stock market is good, the Clinton spin machine is even better or other reasons. But that doesn't answer the question of whether President Clinton should be impeached and removed from office because he is morally unfit to govern.

It's the hypocrisy, stupid...

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Comments (2)

Steve Crickmore:

Paul. I came across this excellent blog article by Rick Perlstein that examines the hypocrisy angle, and concludes that Vitter's 'transgressions' shouldn't be seen so much as hypocrisy, but as succumbing to the temptation of sin and redemption which is large part of Southern Christian culture...Of course Vitter didn't spare Clinton any sympathy or give him the benefit of forgiveness.

Paul Hamilton:

That is a very interesting article, and it brings up one of the major flaws with Christian fundamentalism which contributed toward my leaving their ranks for the more mature and theologically sound Catholicism.

The fundies acknowledge that we all sin, but they have no mechanism to return the sinner to a full relationship with God other than a complete spiritual reset -- going back to the altar and getting saved again. That simply makes no sense. If a child violates some family rule and later wants to make up, he doesn't have to be born again, he just has to acknowledge his wrongdoing, ask forgiveness and sincerely work toward not making the same mistakes again. That's the sacrament of reconciliation, and it makes perfect theological sense because it respects the person's spiritual relationship that, while it may be damaged by sin, is not necessarily broken.

But for the fundamentalists, all there is to do is to be saved again -- by grace, and not works -- and you're back to square one. And the fellow believers have to respect that. And there's no degree of sinfulness like the Catholics have with their venial and mortal sins. If you spit on the sidewalk, your walk with the Lord is just as shattered as if you'd broken all ten commandments on the steps of the church.

So the culture is that you cycle your spiritual status all the time. When there's a revival, pretty much everybody goes up to the altar from the wild teen who really wants to change his life, to the old saint who just wants to make sure her ticket's punched.

And I'm quite certain that Vitter will go to the altar as well. I hope he does. And I hope that when he does, he asks God for the strength to resist that particular temptation in the future because, as I said in an earlier note, repentance is supposed to be changing your LIFE, not just changing your MIND.

End of sermon... :)


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Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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