Are You "Taking Care" Mr. President?
In a manner of speaking, the President and I go back a long way.
Thirty years ago, we both were in England. During the week, he was
a Rhodes Scholar and I was in the early stages of a concert career.
On weekends, young Bill Clinton joined international activists marching
along Hyde Park toward the U.S. Embassy to vent their distaste for
America. My wife and I stood at Speakers' Corner reminding demonstrators
of the debt Europeans owe to the United States. We never knowingly
encountered Bill Clinton but we were, without a doubt, on opposite
Odd that once again we should be in physical proximity - this time
in Washington. A great deal has happened in our lives since the
late 1960s. William Jefferson Blythe Clinton has become the 42nd
President of the United States. I recently traded the life of a
touring pianist for one dedicated to the restoration of principles
upon which the United States was founded.
We are still on opposite sides.
This has nothing to do with Democrat or Republican, Liberal or
Conservative. It has everything to do, just as it did 30 years ago,
with our respective views of America.
For a naturalized American to speculate in public about the sitting
president's sentiments toward our country feels like the height
of presumption. On the other hand, having to speculate about that
sentiment is even more unusual than my presumption. One may agree
or disagree with the acts and conduct of past presidents, but their
relationship to the country would not have been questioned. Of course
I do not claim to know how Bill Clinton feels toward America, but
that is precisely the troubling thought. Why don't I know?
Warts and all, the United States was at its inception, has been
since, and remains today a miracle. Truman or Eisenhower, JFK or
Reagan - whatever their differences, they shared the unshakable
faith, the special pride most Americans feel about this land.
For a person who built a career on "feeling our pain,"
Mr. Clinton offers little evidence of sharing our pride. Since he
does communicate his sentiments about a quota-based cabinet, gays
in the military, the need for new government or national health
insurance, why the reticence about his love of country? The truth
may be that patriotism is missing from his make-up and, if so, that
is not a crime. In fact, it might explain why having been on the
other side during his student days does not really bother him. It
might explain why the current outcry about taking money for his
campaign from Communist China would puzzle him. To feel the gravity
of breaking faith with America, one must have unconditional faith
in America to begin with.
While some would be happier with a president whose love of America
is unconditional, the Constitution makes no such demand on the chief
executive. It does, however, make certain other demands. Article
II directs the President thus: "he shall take care that the
Laws be faithfully executed."
The Laws. America means a lot of different things to the people
who have come here. Some wanted religious freedom, others political
freedom, yet others prosperity. Many sought all three, many found
all three. Freedom and prosperity survived in America while the
rest of the world lurched from revolution to revolution, from war
to war. Freedom and prosperity survived in America despite a civil
war, the assassination of leaders at critical times, and a crippling
depression. Freedom and prosperity survived in America because of
the Law. America is one of a kind because its intoxicating aspirations
were articulated through the sobriety of Law.
The Law says that Congress shall have "All legislative Powers,"
and that the President "shall take care that the Laws be faithfully
executed." Not the other way around.
Accordingly, while the rest of us might get by while skirting the
edges of law, it won't do for a president. While the rest of us
might get away with pleading ignorance, bad advice or rotten associates,
it won't do for a president. It won't do because we depend on the
president to "take care that the Laws be faithfully executed."
If he does not take care, who will? Who should? Why should anyone?
I have no more authority to evaluate Mr. Clinton's legal position
than I have to pronounce about his patriotism. But I have to wonder
whether anyone who reads newspapers would see President Clinton
as one who has taken "care that the Laws be faithfully executed."
Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative, mean-spirited
or caring and compassionate, the standards by which the President
is to be judged are embodied in the Articles of the Constitution
upon which he has twice taken an oath.
That is the Law.