- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2000

The Roman emperor Severus "promised only to betray, he flattered only to ruin; and however he might occasionally bind himself by oaths and treaties, his conscience, obsequious to his interest, always released him from the inconvenient obligation." Edward Gibbon goes on to conclude, in his 18th century masterpiece, "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," that "The contemporaries of Severus, in the enjoyment of the peace and glory of his reign, forgave the cruelties by which it had been introduced. Posterity, who experienced the fatal effects of his maxims and example, justly considered him as the principal author of the decline of the Roman empire."

Republican presidential contender Sen. Orrin Hatch is doing all in his power to make sure that we, in our time, do not make the same mistake as Emperor Severus' contemporaries did in theirs. Mr. Hatch is committing a fair piece of his campaign budget to broadcasts of his 28-minute speech that takes the moral measure of Bill Clinton's presidency (without, by the way, mention of that woman, Miss Lewinsky.)

Mr. Hatch possesses the moral acuity to recognize that Bill Clinton's corrupting example must be explicitly extirpated from the body politic. He correctly judges that if this presidential campaign glides past without the American people's making such a moral judgment, the Clinton method will become both a precedent and an exemplar for future presidents.

If Marshall McLuhan was right when he wrote that "the medium is the message," then even Mr. Hatch's choice of a 28-minute broadcast has a moral dimension. In this age of 30 second spots and seven second sound bites, it takes some courage to run a 28-minute speech in which the camera never leaves his face, and in which there are no visual tricks or dramatic musical emotion-drivers. The last presidential candidate I remember who similarly bet on the long attention span and moral reason of the American voter was Ronald Reagan.

I should confess that as one who battled Bill Clinton in the political arena from 1992-1997 (as Newt Gingrich's very visible press secretary), it is gratifying to see, in one speech, a seamless description of Mr. Clinton's policy deceits and constitutional breaches. Mr. Clinton's criminalities are not a theoretical matter to me. His political operatives pawed through my FBI file. I was told in 1995 that my tax returns were seen on the desk of a Clinton political appointee.

But beyond those personal assaults on my liberties, what offended me even more deeply and what Mr. Hatch's speech begins to bring to account is the way that Mr. Clinton's 24-hour-a- day, 365-day-a-year campaign of lies made honest public debate almost impossible. If a president of the United States is prepared to use the 200 years of accumulated honor that resides in the Oval Office on behalf of remorseless lying, he will first baffle and then disillusion the public. But the danger to the country is not from Mr. Clinton's breaches, but rather from the Washington and media elite's indifference to those breaches.

First the morally obtuse media and the politically timid Senate implied that an 11,000 point Dow Jones outweighed Mr. Clinton's corruptions. And until now, no Republican presidential candidate has been prepared to spend precious advertising dollars to make an explicit stand against Mr. Clinton's corruptions (they think the public doesn't want to hear it).

So all the more invigorating it is to watch Mr. Hatch proclaim: "What needs to be said openly and plainly now is: Public corruption and a systematic attempt to cover it up is always a first concern a first issue … We must point out how the corrupt system is really about a unique and historic brand of wrongdoing by a new class of elitist liberals and political power-seekers who appear to think themselves above the people and unaccountable to them."

That passage rings true to me. I have seen, close up, as I have debated these Clinton operatives on television, the supreme arrogance in their faces. In semi-private, many of them are openly contemptuous of the truth and the public's ability to discern it. They are a new breed, and they must be driven from the temple.

Mr. Hatch's broadcast speech is a first step in that direction; but only a first step. Of course one speech, even a fine one, is not sufficient reason to vote for a candidate. For those who see the speech, though, it may well give rise to a second look. Equally important, will any of the other Republican candidates find the courage to pick up the theme?

Mr. Hatch says in his speech that the antidote to all these lies is "The power of the truth. Telling the simple unvarnished truth. And counting on the people to recognize it; feel its magnetic pull; signal their approval, and rally to its support." I hope he is right. But I am reminded of what Adlai Stevenson said when a woman told him that every thinking person would vote for him: "Madame, I regret I'll need more votes than that."

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