February 1, 2001
What does the letter "W" tell us about what's wrong in America today? Quite a bit, when the letter is missing from a White House office keyboard. In case you missed it, some of Clinton's staff members decided they would 'make a statement' to the incoming administration, and removed, destroyed, or defaced the keys containing the letter "w" on more than forty computer keyboards.
They didn't stop at the keyboards, however. There were phone lines cut, obscene messages recorded on voice mail, and graffiti scribbled on walls. Filing cabinets were glued shut, and desks were turned over. The Clinton Kids effectively demonstrated, once again, how much America needs adults in the Executive Branch.
Commentators and columnists have spent the past eight years telling us why the former administration acted the way it did. We have heard about the trauma of the Vietnam Era, of coming of age in the turbulent 60's, of the "Me generation." Right and wrong are both relative; it all depends on what your definition of "is" is. Those who took a stand for morality (i.e., the morality which is based upon the Ten Commandments) were vilified as mean-spirited and partisan.
Like the missing "dubyas," there are keys to civilized conduct, and once upon a time, those keys were originally in the possession of adults all over America. Most parents attempted, by word and by deed, to pass those keys along to their children, so that they, in turn, could pass them along to their children. Somewhere along the line, the baton was dropped, and a generation in which many of the children were missing the keys came of age...and became the ones in the houses of power.
The first missing key which comes to mind is responsibility. Webster defines responsible as "liable to be called upon to answer for one's acts or decisions, answerable." The courage to claim personal responsibility for one's own actions is becoming an increasingly rare trait. Before the Clintons, no one had ever heard of spin doctors, and war room usually brought up images of Watergate. Even the people most loyal to the Clintons, however, will admit that those who cross Bill and Hillary end up with their reputations trashed. Should either of them be faced with incontrovertible evidence of their wrong (such as a blue Gap dress), they still don't really claim responsibility; they continue blaming others.
Another definition of responsible is able to choose for oneself between right and wrong. Contrary to what many believe, there are definite standards of what is right and what is not. For example, deliberately defacing others' property is wrong, no matter how much authority one has been given. It is not only irresponsible and immature, it is uncivil.
Much talk is being made lately of civility, and this is certainly one of the missing keys. Civility is important: when a person can communicate in a thoughtful, courteous manner, he is far more likely to be heard. Many people mistake civility for tolerance, however, and there is a vital difference between the two. Tolerance of the differences between peoples is a good thing, and Americans should be civil to all people; however, tolerance of wrongdoing is not a good thing, which brings us to the next missing key: integrity.
Integrity has been defined as what a person is when no one else is looking. It does not mean an ability to look caring in front of the cameras, or the ability to say exactly what someone else is wishing to hear. It means always telling the truth, even when the truth puts one in an unfavorable light. It means possessing convictions, and having the strength to stand up for those convictions.
From whence comes the strength necessary to do the right thing when everyone else says to do the opposite? For many people, it comes from their faith in God: one more key element which is missing from so many of our leaders. If a person believes that humankind has evolved from lower life forms, and that when dead will simply cease to exist, there is little reason to restrain whatever impulse may be gripping him at the moment. On the other hand, a person who believes that someone who cares what he does is watching each action will try to govern his life so that the Watcher will be pleased.
There are many more missing keys, but they are not difficult to find: they are in the Bible, in the great literary works of years ago, in the hearts and homes of millions of Americans. They must be passed on to each generation for our society to survive. If you know of a child who isn't being given the keys, do what you can to pass them along to him yourself. The country you save will be your own.
This article copyright © 2001 by Sarah Taylor and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.