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America, let's give scandal a chance

August 20, 1998

Tim RowlandWe've been through this before, but once again there is a move afoot to fit a stone that's carved with the Ten Commandments outside the county courthouse.

Once again, for obvious reasons, I vehemently oppose locating the biblical monument on government property. For as any student of our legal system knows, to place the Ten Commandments so close to a seat of government would seriously and irrevocably degrade Moses.

Why sully such a great work by putting it in the company of, at the risk of sounding redundant, lawyers, politicians and crooks? This is like hanging the Mona Lisa in a roadhouse.

Can you imagine the Ten Commandments, lawyer style? Thou shall have no other god before me and billable hours. Thou shalt not kill unless thou art being victimized by society, and so on.

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You had to love the County Commissioners' reaction to the Commandment request: Hold a public hearing. That's nice. I'm sure the Founding Fathers and THE Founding Father are collectively slapping themselves on the forehead for printing up the Constitution and the Bible without affording the people of Hagerstown, Md., a shot at public comment.

Gee, maybe we wouldn't have liked the part guaranteeing a fair trial either. But no one bothered to ask. And heaven knows the Commandments themselves wouldn't have stood a public hearing, not here. No covet? Ha! And the Golden Rule would have said less about love and more about tax cuts.

As for whether we should post the Commandments, I agree that humanity is in decline and we should do all we can to swing the tide back toward morality. But let's be practical. We can't save everybody and it seems to me the courthouse might be a good spot to just "cut our losses" and move on to a population with a more realistic chance at salvation.

Saving the political classes strikes me as swimming upstream. That's what bothers me about all the people fretting that President Clinton has betrayed the country as a role model. Politicians as role models? Since when?

I have an imperfect memory, but I don't recall my parents ever telling me "Son, we want you to be just like Lyndon Johnson." Leaders by nature are predatory, not conciliatory. We never admire our leaders until about 20 years after they're dead - because they're easier to take that way.

Except for maybe John Donoghue and Jimmy Carter, politicians are the last people you want your kids to emulate. Politics is a shifty business filled with shifty people. The Framers envisioned a parade of political lackeys, that's why the Constitution guards against action.

And that's why I believe that the Lewinsky scandal has been the best thing that could have happened to the nation. First, it stripped away any lasting illusion we might have harbored that the president is anything more than a necessary evil.

Second, because the political microculture has been obsessed with Monica over the past seven months it hasn't had any spare time to meddle with something that might really matter. Show me a militia member who's fascinatedly poring over his "Bill Clinton Die Die Die" Web site and I'll show you a cult member who's not out bombing a federal courthouse. Show me a congressman who's spending his floor time speaking out about presidential immorality and I'll show you a congressman who's not drafting legislation giving another tax break to the rich.

Face it, scandal is good. It keeps half of the politicians from becoming too big for their britches and keeps the other half from indulging in anything but criticism of the first half. For people who distrust government, pointless gridlock certainly has its charms.

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