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The Smartest Thing Clinton Ever Said

The Native Alien has never been particularly fond of Clintonian antics, whether they be of the Hillarious or the Billious type. Both of them have plumbed new depths in the moral decreptitude of political verminology. But even a blind warthog rooting around in the dank undergrowth of a fetid forest can stumble across a succulent truffle, and so even Slick Willie is capable of uttering an occasional truth amid the torrent of lies that normally issues from his pie hole. To wit:

1994, April 21—Last night on MTV's "Enough is Enough" (a program dealing with crime and violence in America), a student from George Washington University asked our president about Singapore's system of government, noting that the Singaporian system does not base itself on the strong belief in individual civil rights as ours does. The questioner observed that Singapore and countries like it boast extraordinarily low crime rates.  He asked "How do you account for that? Is our system outdated?  Does it need to be changed?"


THE PRESIDENT:  Yes -- the young man, Michael Fay, in Singapore.  As you know, I have spoken out against his punishment for two reasons.  One is, it's not entirely clear that his confession wasn't coerced from him.  The second is that if he just were to serve four months in prison for what he did, that would be quite severe, but the caning may leave permanent scars, and some people who are caned, in the way they're caned, they go into shock.  I mean, it's much more serious than it sounds.  So, on the one hand, I don't approve of this punishment, particularly in this case.

Now, having said that, a lot of the Asian societies that are doing very well now have low crime rates and high economic growth rates, partly because they have very coherent societies with strong units where the unit is more important than the individual, whether it's the family unit or the work unit or the community unit.

My own view is that you can go to the extreme in either direction.  And when we got organized as a country and we wrote a fairly radical Constitution with a radical Bill of Rights, giving a radical amount of individual freedom to Americans, it was assumed that the Americans who had that freedom would use it responsibly. That is, when we set up this country, abuse of people by government was a big problem.  So if you read the Constitution, it's rooted in the desire to limit the ability of government's ability to mess with you, because that was a huge problem.  It can still be a huge problem.  But it assumed that people would basically be raised in coherent families, in coherent communities, and they would work for the common good, as well as for the individual welfare.

What's happened in America today is, too many people live in areas where there's no family structure, no community structure, and no work structure.  And so there's a lot of irresponsibility.  And so a lot of people say there's too much personal freedom.  When personal freedom's being abused, you have to move to limit it.  That's what we did in the announcement I made last weekend on the public housing projects, about how we're going to have weapon sweeps and more things like that to try to make people safer in their communities.  So that's my answer to you.  We can have... the more personal freedom a society has, the more personal responsibility a society needs, and the more strength you need out of your institutions -- family, community and work.

Source: Bill McDonald — bd___@cle___and.Freenet.Edu

We hasten to stipulate that Clinton's statement —  "...when we got organized as a country and we wrote a fairly radical Constitution with a radical Bill of Rights, giving a radical amount of individual freedom to Americans" — is a relative observation. That is, if Americans had a "radical" amount of individual freedom at the inception of the United States of America, it was only relative to the tyranny they endured as subjects of the British crown. So, that particular remark is not the smartest thing Clinton ever said.

But his comment on the relationship between personal freedom and personal responsibility is a rational and moral bullseye. The fact that his own behavior doesn't provide a role model for that principle doesn't change the fact that the principle itself is sound.

Everyone is in favor of his or her own version of freedom, however they define it. But the real test of your dedication to the concept of personal freedom is the degree to which you are willing to accept the consequences of your own thoughts, words, and actions. If that sort of personal responsibility shows up in everything you think, say, and do, then you may count yourself among that group of rare individuals who talk about freedom, know what they're talking about, and walk their talk. If not, then go ahead and keep on voting for vermin like Billary. They'll be glad to let you trade your personal freedom for the security they always promise, but never deliver.

2007, February 24

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