President Clinton's Spine

Diogenes searched by lantern in daylight for an honest man. You could use the sun as your lantern on the longest day of the year and not find more than an ounce or two of leadership in this country today.

Elvis sang some lines which have apparently become the anthem of today's politicians, our President included:

Weak as a willow tree,
Strong as the raging sea,
Anything you want me to be, I'll be.

Since the Republican Congressional victories of 1994, President Clinton has repositioned himself as a centrist Republican because that's what the pollsters tell him the people want. Pronouncements about welfare, school uniforms, violence on TV, and numerous other issues all identify the constituency to which the President is playing.

A leader is like a flag. You don't salute a flag unless you know what it stands for. That doesn't mean what it stands for TODAY, but what it represents for all time. In the decades since polls took over the tempo of American political life, we have seen the final triumph of interests over issues as the issues became the matter of a day or an hour, while only the interests were permanent.

Pat Buchanan is an extreme and dangerous man, but the one good thing you can say about him is he uses no pollster. What he stands for is repellent but at least you know.

One of the worst choices of Clinton's presidency was his silence on the Communications Decency Act. Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of all our liberties. Without it, we are guaranteed nothing else. If a politician is not committed to the freedom of speech, he cannot be counted on. It is not a poker chip that can be traded away, as Mr. Clinton did, for something else. If you do not build your house on the freedom of speech, you are building on sand.

The President's silence on the CDA was shameful. A politician who follows the polls and is afraid to take a principled, unpopular stand is like a parent too weak to set rules. We can almost all agree that a parent should set limits; so must a president. The First Amendment, which was written by better leaders than we have today, is a stop sign, which says "Thou Shalt Not Ban Speech." President Clinton should have placed himself between it and the Congress, with another sign: "Thou Shalt Not Attack the First Amendment."