- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2001

The Clinton reign of error ends in disgust. Liberal commentators who looked at conservatives as priggish and prudish during the impeachment finally share the overwhelming disgust with the rest of us.

These critics-come-lately had closed their eyes to the soiling of the Oval Office by behavior unbecoming a commander in chief and a gentleman. When the staff he left behind trashed the West Wing with lewd graffiti on the walls, pornographic images dumped into computer printers and file cabinets glued shut, everyone agreed a line had been crossed. The looting of the presidential Boeing 747, dispatched to take the Clintons to New York as a courtesy of the new president china, silverware, blankets, pillow cases, towels, soaps, toothpaste tubes with or without the presidential seal were stripped away insult was added to injury.

"This is an outrage for taxpayers," says Sean Rushton, media director for Citizens Against Government Waste. "We should not be using general revenue to pay for vandalism." The "unprecedented" trashing of the White House "surpasses even the normal excesses of the Clinton administration. What a gross ending."

Live like the Snopses, leave like the Snopses.

Disgust, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and so it was for eight years. Partisanship became repugnance became acceptance. How did this happen? William Ian Miller, author of "The Anatomy of Disgust," sees a coarsening of public discourse and behavior in "the general loosening of norms surrounding once taboo topics of bodily functions and sexuality."

He's right, but what's fascinating is the way that the loosening of norms in categories we usually consider private also slackens the standards for public behavior. The Clintons got a pass on their deportment until their last week in the White House, when everyone could at last see how their indulgent private behavior infected their public personae.

The $200,000 worth of loot they carried away from the White House was only greater in scale than the stuff their visitors and staff took off the presidential airplane. Hillary, the silver-packin' mama, followed the letter of the law, if not the spirit of the Senate ethics restrictions.

Disgust monitors behavior and keeps men and women in line by defining limits and boundaries, taste and manners with secular demarcations for virtue and vice. What disgusts us defines us, social critic Joseph Epstein observes. Disgust humanizes responses on a moral hierarchy of what's acceptable and what's not. It's an emotion that finally hits us with a visceral blow to the solar plexus.

Disgust, like tears and glee, is uniquely human, distinguishing us from animals. Animals don't experience disgust and we forgive our pets their disgusting behavior. You can't blame a pig for waddling in the mud (although pigs can be more refined than you might imagine).

When Buddy, Bill Clinton's chocolate Labrador, knocked down his master, we found Buddy endearing. But the incident became a metaphor for Bill Clinton's fall from grace, comic relief from the disgust we felt when he hogged the public microphone on his departure day, thumbed his nose at the public with his pardons, particularly of Marc Rich, who was indicted not only for fraud, but who had renounced his American citizenship and traded with Iran even as it held and tortured the American hostages.

The slippery slope is a particularly dangerous place in the long run. So it is with political character. When Bill Clinton testified falsely he showed his contempt for the law, contempt that inexorably led to the pardons.

Many of us were appalled at his scandalous treatment of women, but everybody was disgusted by the pardons. Well, nearly everybody. Disgust has no degree, no wiggle room for excuses. Disgust does not distinguish between who you are and what you do, between public and private approval ratings. While he was president Bill Clinton's friends separated the good Bill Clinton from the bad Bill Clinton, but when he finally took his leave there was only one Bill Clinton. With his departure, everyone could finally see him for what he was.

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