A Nation of Consenting Adults

"A Nation of Consenting Adults: The Democrats Are the Party of Moral Laxity, and the Republicans Are the Party of Moral--What?," Weekly Standard, 15 November 1998.


The election was about sex even if it wasn’t.  It wasn’t, because the Republicans failed to make an issue of President Clinton’s escapades.  They were following the polls, and in keeping with the idea behind the independent-counsel statute, they were letting Kenneth Starr do their work for them.  It was only Democrats, though few of them (such as Charles Schumer in New York), who made sex an issue — against intrusive Republicans.

In the event, the Republicans were caught in a classic half-measure.  They were far enough committed to be exposed to blame, but they did not go far enough to have an effect.

Yet the election was about sex because the American people gave Clinton a pass.  They did not make an issue of his misconduct; they silently consented to it.  Our mostly issueless election was between consenting adults in politics, and what they consented to was the doctrine of consenting adults in sex.  Silent consent is easier than making an issue; it comes and goes without involvement, commitment, or responsibility.  Even in government by consent, we consent to the most important things silently.

When the Republicans failed to make an issue of Clinton, they gave him a pass.  Morality always has to make an issue of itself.  Morality is about praise and blame, and it cannot afford to fall silent because silence is abdication, and abdication is consent.  The Republicans kept waiting for the morality of ordinary Americans to appear, and to give the presumptuous cad Clinton a mighty swipe.  But they feared appealing to morality.  Having taken the easy way out themselves, they should not be surprised that the American people did the same.

Weekly Standard