Are You "Taking Care" Mr. President?
In a manner of speaking, the President and I go back a long way. Thirty years ago, we both were in England. During the week, he was a Rhodes Scholar and I was in the early stages of a concert career. On weekends, young Bill Clinton joined international activists marching along Hyde Park toward the U.S. Embassy to vent their distaste for America. My wife and I stood at Speakers' Corner reminding demonstrators of the debt Europeans owe to the United States. We never knowingly encountered Bill Clinton but we were, without a doubt, on opposite sides.
Odd that once again we should be in physical proximity - this time in Washington. A great deal has happened in our lives since the late 1960s. William Jefferson Blythe Clinton has become the 42nd President of the United States. I recently traded the life of a touring pianist for one dedicated to the restoration of principles upon which the United States was founded.
We are still on opposite sides.
This has nothing to do with Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative. It has everything to do, just as it did 30 years ago, with our respective views of America.
For a naturalized American to speculate in public about the sitting president's sentiments toward our country feels like the height of presumption. On the other hand, having to speculate about that sentiment is even more unusual than my presumption. One may agree or disagree with the acts and conduct of past presidents, but their relationship to the country would not have been questioned. Of course I do not claim to know how Bill Clinton feels toward America, but that is precisely the troubling thought. Why don't I know?
Warts and all, the United States was at its inception, has been since, and remains today a miracle. Truman or Eisenhower, JFK or Reagan - whatever their differences, they shared the unshakable faith, the special pride most Americans feel about this land.
For a person who built a career on "feeling our pain," Mr. Clinton offers little evidence of sharing our pride. Since he does communicate his sentiments about a quota-based cabinet, gays in the military, the need for new government or national health insurance, why the reticence about his love of country? The truth may be that patriotism is missing from his make-up and, if so, that is not a crime. In fact, it might explain why having been on the other side during his student days does not really bother him. It might explain why the current outcry about taking money for his campaign from Communist China would puzzle him. To feel the gravity of breaking faith with America, one must have unconditional faith in America to begin with.
While some would be happier with a president whose love of America is unconditional, the Constitution makes no such demand on the chief executive. It does, however, make certain other demands. Article II directs the President thus: "he shall take care that the Laws be faithfully executed."
The Laws. America means a lot of different things to the people who have come here. Some wanted religious freedom, others political freedom, yet others prosperity. Many sought all three, many found all three. Freedom and prosperity survived in America while the rest of the world lurched from revolution to revolution, from war to war. Freedom and prosperity survived in America despite a civil war, the assassination of leaders at critical times, and a crippling depression. Freedom and prosperity survived in America because of the Law. America is one of a kind because its intoxicating aspirations were articulated through the sobriety of Law.
The Law says that Congress shall have "All legislative Powers," and that the President "shall take care that the Laws be faithfully executed." Not the other way around.
Accordingly, while the rest of us might get by while skirting the edges of law, it won't do for a president. While the rest of us might get away with pleading ignorance, bad advice or rotten associates, it won't do for a president. It won't do because we depend on the president to "take care that the Laws be faithfully executed." If he does not take care, who will? Who should? Why should anyone?
I have no more authority to evaluate Mr. Clinton's legal position than I have to pronounce about his patriotism. But I have to wonder whether anyone who reads newspapers would see President Clinton as one who has taken "care that the Laws be faithfully executed."
Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative, mean-spirited or caring and compassionate, the standards by which the President is to be judged are embodied in the Articles of the Constitution upon which he has twice taken an oath.
That is the Law.