- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 24, 2001

It is ironic that the movie "Gladiator" has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards, because this film chronicles a past era that America now seems to be

embracing.

Comparisons between the ancient Roman Empire and the United States are nothing new, but these days more and more Americans seem to be ready to break out the togas and head down to their local Nero Sporting Complex for some good old-fashioned carnage.

Our symbolic alliance with ancient Rome begins in the political arena. Fifty percent of Americans who were eligible to vote in last November's presidential shootout, declined to exercise that privilege. That means half of the adult population in the United States doesn't care about their country. These nonvoting people are chock-full of excuses, but apathy and laziness are the bottom line.

And don't think the politicians don't get this; they certainly do.

They also know another 30 percent of American adults (15 percent on the left, and 15 percent on the right) are so glued into their ideology that rational thought is impossible. These are the people who will make any excuse to avoid seeing Bill Clinton for the corrupting presence that he is, and these are the people who will support George W. Bush no matter what he does.

We have seen both on display in the aftermath of the Marc Rich pardon. Once again, Mr. Clinton has done something so outrageous and inexplicable it almost defies belief.

I got a great kick out of seeing the corrupt Mr. Clinton pardon a wealthy fugitive who allegedly evaded $48 million in taxes. This is the same Bill Clinton who adamantly opposes any tax cut for the wealthy. How phony is this guy Clinton?

Then Mr. Bush comes along and says he doesn't care about investigating the Marc Rich pardon and wants to "move on." What?

There is possible bribery in play here, Mr. President. Don't you want to know what really happened in this case? Apparently, Mr. Bush is more interested in the short-term success of his administration than the long-term strength of the country.

But like the Clintonistas, the Bush-Masters rush to the defense of their guy. "He can't jeopardize his agenda by alienating the Democrats," they say. "He must stay above the fray."

Well, bullfeathers. The most important issue in America these days is not tax cuts, or prescription drugs or even improving education. The most important issue is honest government. President Bush must embrace that concept, or the country will continue to decline in the moral arena.

Just as ancient Rome did.

At one time the Tiber Tigers were a disciplined society that imposed civilization and order on an unruly world. But then the masses of Romans began watching "Survivor," "Temptation Island" and the XFL. Wait a minute, sorry, that's us. The Romans actually began wallowing in orgies and feeding Christians to the lions at the Coliseum. They also tolerated corrupt leaders if the economy was good. Uh-oh, sounds like us again.

Anyway, it is easy to get confused these days. Going to the polls once every four years to vote for a president is apparently too taxing for half of us. It is much easier to go see "Hannibal" or click on the computer and dial up porn.

So with 50 percent of Americans not willing to vote, and another 30 percent parading around as ideological zealots, the politicians only have to worry about 20 percent of the citizenry actually thinking about stuff. And, as Bill Clinton proved, you can fool a good portion of this 20 percent with a little lip biting, some concern about "the children" and a good dose of entitlement spending on special interests.

Caligula would have loved this scenario. In reality, he had to spend a lot more to keep the population from interrupting his debaucheries. Those lions and tigers did not come cheap, and feeding those Jesus lovers until the beasts could chow down on them was another heavy expense.

Luckily, Cal and his fellow Roman tyrants were running a budget surplus, thanks to their plundering of Gaul. That surplus, and the moral apathy it bought, allowed the good times to roll in ancient Rome, and perhaps for us in modern day America.

But the good times never last forever. And when the Huns finally do show up things could get quite dicey if government corruption is allowed to exist unchecked and the leadership is forever busy "moving on."

Bill O'Reilly, a veteran TV news anchor, is host of the Fox News show "The O'Reilly Factor," and author of the new book, "The O'Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous."

Bill O'Reilly, a veteran TV news anchor, is host of the Fox News show "The O'Reilly Factor," and author of the new book, "The O'Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous."

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