pacing the void

By Mark Joseph Goldenson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 24, 1997

Clinton's bridge fails to span his chasm of character


Arizona Daily Wildcat

I want to build a bridge to the 21st century that we could all walk across together. Let us build a bridge wide enough and strong enough for every American to cross over. Now, we've got a bridge to build, and I'm ready if you are."

Oh, please.

A bridge is a sturdy foundation, an unwavering icon of stability. A bridge can not fluctuate. A bridge can not collapse under pressure. Yet, Bill Clinton, the Jell-o president, has incessantly invoked the connotations of a "bridge." This from a man whose oscillations could put lambada dancers to shame.

Face it folks. Clinton's bridge metaphor is another mental fart from the ideologically constipated. Straining to mask four years of fluctuation, Clinton plopped out bridges hoping voters would look to the future with his tunnel "vision." A peer at his past, however, reveals a chasm of character.

Character is the culmination of basic, fundamental values that guide our lives. They are uncompromising beliefs, beliefs we rarely change or distort. Murder is bad. Kindness is good. Michael Bolton is evil. This is the stuff of character. This is the stuff of leadership. Bill Clinton does not have the right stuff.

I do not say this because I disagree with his views. I say this because there are no views to disagree with.

In his first campaign, Clinton opposed gasoline tax increases, saying, "There are other ways [to reduce the deficit] that don't burden the middle class." On March 22 of last year, Clinton raised the gasoline tax by 6.8 cents per gallon. Then, only two months later, Clinton reversed again, saying he would be "glad" to sign the gas tax repeal bill. A bridge of stability, eh? Wait. There's more.

As a campaign promise in 1992, Clinton vowed to cut middle-class taxes. In 1994, he raised taxes by $258 billion dollars - the largest tax increase in history. On Oct. 17, 1995, Clinton said, "There are people [who] think I raised your taxes too much. It might surprise you to know that I think I raised them too much, too." Surprised? Clinton reversing positions? Perish the thought.

On May 6, 1995, Clinton said American immigration policy must deny illegal aliens benefits for public services. Ten months later, on March 2, 1996, he said he would not deny social services to illegal immigrants.

As governor of Arkansas, Clinton said a balanced budget was a "salvation." He now vehemently opposes a balanced budget amendment - an interesting display of consistency for someone who sees himself as Teddy Roosevelt with a drawl.

These reversals do not show the character of a leader. While Roosevelt was an opinionated man who believed leaders "dared mighty things," Clinton has shuffled from neoliberalism to moderate conservatism, radical socialism to the "vital center." Now, he wants us to embrace this stability and cross his bridge into the 21st century? No, thanks. Teddy and I will take the scenic route.

When Clinton finally reveals some definite "values," however, one wishes he would continue to pull morality out of a hat. Clinton's character has him competing with Warren G. Harding for most scandals in a presidency.

From Vince Foster to Whitewater, Filegate to Travelgate, Clinton's scandals have blown holes in an already unstable bridge. Last year, Clinton sought immunity from Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit under the guise of Commander in Chief. That's a compelling argument from a man who dodged the draft like the plague. Clinton and his lawyers told Supreme Court Justices that his immunity was of "extraordinary national importance." Teddy had a phrase for statements like that. He called them "weasel words."

Regardless of when the case comes to court, Paula Jones' allegations remain detrimental to Clinton's character. Jones claims Clinton secretly carted her to his hotel room and asked for oral sex. Apparently, Clinton misheard his mentor. Roosevelt said, "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

The culmination of these character flaws is a president unworthy of his position. Clinton himself said, "If you lack the determination to deliver what you have promised, don't make promises." I couldn't agree more.

I also agree that "we live at a moment that will define our course and our character for decades to come." While I do not believe Bill Clinton can lead us on the right course, he is our designated architect for the next four years. Americans must define themselves through him, and he better heed their resounding message.

Forget the damn bridge, Mr. President. Start building some character.

Mark Joseph Goldenson is a psychology and molecular and cellular biology freshman. His column, "Gold Standard," appears every Friday.