Herb London’s newest book, a relentlessly critical view of American morals and culture in the 1990’s, makes two pivotal observations. First, the moral deterioration that journalists associate with the Republican “decade of greed” (the 80’s) actually took place, partly thanks to the media, in the 90’s. Second, the major impact of the Clinton presidency was moral:
Americans appear to be lying to themselves throughout the decade. It is not the “economy, stupid” but culture that counts. A nation that cannot control its emotions cannot long sustain its prosperity. If norms can be discarded like used newspapers, then the characteristics necessary for success will at some point be undermined.
Referring to Clinton’s lust and mendacity, London remarks that, “if Americans are shockproof, if a president can win support as long as the gross national product rises, political compromises of major proportions are possible.” What the author is suggesting is that, if a population (which it may be wrong to regard as made up of citizens) can glorify a lying rake as its national leader, it may be ready to give up its liberties entirely.
London may understate the problem. What distinguished the Clinton years was the prevalence of a repulsive double standard. In return for Clinton’s support for...