[T]he state is still sifting through an interpretation of the new law. But its preliminary estimate is that about 187,000 immigrants now in Texas legally will lose food stamps; 22,000 will lose welfare, and 53,160, all elderly or disabled, will be cut off from Supplemental Security Income.(Emphasis added).

Lets get this straight. We established a procedure under which these people could legally reside and work in our country. We accept their taxes and social security contributions. But we are changing the rules under which we allowed them in, and telling them that although they can pay into the system, they can receive nothing back, even if they are in the most extreme need.

Its not fucking fair--its profoundly wrong. But this essay is not about the Republicans who championed the vicious idea of discriminating against the immigrants we permitted to enter our country. Its about the president who wants to play both sides of the fence by signing such a law, then complaining about it. The "I feel your pain" president.

Possibly Clinton has benefited by being the underdog, the fuck-up, the president constantly apologizing, asking your indulgence, forever making a comeback. Some people seem to identify with him, to feel sorry for him. How else could we buy the idea that he could do nothing to protect these people, but feels badly about what the Republicans did to them? Or the scam that if we will only elect him for a second term, he will atone for the misdeeds and clean up the moral messes of the first term?

There are always choices. Leaders lead. Clinton doesn't; he is reminiscent of the Elvis song: "Weak as a willow tree, strong as the raging sea, whatever you want me to be I will be." But there are always choices. Veto the law. Hit the road and tell the American people that this Gingrich- and Contract-inspired attack on immigrants is just plain wrong. Or, if that doesn't work, there's always resignation in protest. Anything but acting as the accessory to a rape.

Another example: Clinton's signature of the Communications Decency Act, with its profound and obvious infringements of the freedom of speech.

Not only is the president weak; he is a man of very easy morality. He is the moral equivalent of Lamar Alexander, another Southern governor to whom friends stuck money everytime he turned around. Go along, get along. Turn around, and your net worth just increased as people cut you in on land deals, opened commodities trading accounts for you, and otherwise made sure life is pleasant.

Whitewater exemplifies the President's easy morality. The whole complicated story boils down to one hand washing the other, repeatedly, across a variety of government offices. As attorney general of Arkansas, Clinton invested in 230 acres of Whitewater property. Later, as governor, he brought fellow investor McDougal into government, and McDougal bought a savings and loan, Madison Guaranty, represented by Mrs. Clinton before state regulators. Governor Clinton then authorized state agencies to move into a building owned by Madison Guaranty, where they paid about $200,000 in annual rent. According to attorney Greg Hopkins, representing an executive of Madison Guaranty named Charles Peacock, these leases were a quid pro quo for a substantial contribution to Clinton's gubernatorial campaign, funneled by Madison through another company owned by Peacock. Charles Lewis writes in The Buying of the President:

[Clinton's] political identity as an accomodator of the largest, most powerful monied interests was well established. While he was governor, millions of dollars in private favors at public expense accrued to various companies and individuals, and Clinton's professional career as a politician was supported by the Arkansas financial and political elites.

Although I think Hillary Clinton has largely had a bum rap-- she is the victim of a continuing backlash against strong, intelligent women--she shares her husband's easy financial morality (if not his sexual casualness), so it is hard to feel too sorry for her.

It is very popular today to segregate a man's public morality from his personal character. But, in fact, no such distinction is possible. A man who lies to his boss or his employees may or may not cheat on his wife. But a man who is unfaithful to his wife has trampled on the most intimate moral responsibility, and is certainly capable of breaking any lesser bond. In short, unfaithful spouses are typically not fit to hold positions of public trust.

In a sense, the Republicans have already won the election, no matter what happens: it is a contest between two moderate Republicans, one of whom fought against supply side economics (Dole) while the other vowed to end "welfare as we know it" (Clinton). Waltzing around in the middle ground like two punch-drunk pugilists, Dole has positioned himself to the left of his party while Clinton has carefully edged out to the right of his. Leaving us with the confusing question of what kind of choice this presents, if one cannot really tell the candidates apart?

As I finished this essay, the Defense of Marriage Act, pandering to hatred with a pre-emptive strike against same sex marriages, was sailing through Congress. Clinton announced that he would sign it. What was he thinking? Doubtless his desire is to avoid another debacle like his early support of gays in the military; his rationalization is that this is what the people want, as evidenced by the comfortable majorities in Congress voting for hatred. The President has now compromised far enough that one can legitimately ask if anything is left to defend. He is like the Liberal Party leaders in One Hundred Years of Solitude who are admitted into the government in return for their support of Catholicism and capital. "Then its about nothing but power," says Colonel Aureliano Buendia when he gets the news.

Compassion, tempered by fairness, is the root of any moral or political system worth its salt. Without compassion, there can be no fairness, and, in fact, no justice. It is impossible to tell if Clinton feels any more compassion than Dole; most likely he does not. But, in the grand tradition of what my psychotherapist wife calls "as if" behavior, Clinton behaves as if he felt compassion from time to time. His background as a politician beholden to the Arkansas business elite makes it almost certain that his compassion is a mask, and certainly sheds some light on the ease with which he has recently sold out the poor and other endangered minorities. In the vocabulary used by psychologist Erving Goffman in the witty Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Clinton is likely all presentation, no self. Goffman wrote of people attempting to present an impression of authority and expertise in public life:

Instead of attempting to achieve certain ends by acceptable means, they can attempt to achieve the impression that they are achieving certain ends by acceptable means.

This fits Bill Clinton to a T; he is in fact trying to create the ultimate political self, attempting to leave both his constituencies with the impression of his sincere efforts. He wants the right to pay attention to his acts (his quiet support of a bill or his failure to veto it) while he hopes the left will concentrate on his words (meaningless statements of sympathy or support while constituencies such as the poor are damaged).

I may, after all this, yet vote for Bill Clinton. Since "as if" behavior may occasionally bring about the thing itself--or, in this case, at least a few social policies in the same ballpark as those which would have been created by true compassion--voting for Clinton is slightly more likely to preserve the engangered flame. A feeble hope, given Clinton's connivance in the mean-spirited attack on immigrants, gay people and the poor, but one has to start somewhere.