The early June trip to Europe by President Bush was instructive to me on a couple of points. First, in his Warsaw speech on June 15, he very methodically outlined the principles that should undergird the post-Cold War order: “no more Munichs, no more Yaltas”, no more insecure states serving as a buffer zone between Russia and Europe, and an emphasis on an American partnership with a Europe extending from the Atlantic to the Urals. In his view, this partnership should be based on much more than materialism and consumerism, but rather the vision espoused by Pope John Paul II, of “man as a creature of intelligence and free will, immersed in a mystery which transcends his own being and endowed with the ability to reflect and to choose, and thus capable of wisdom and virtue.”
Second, I was struck by the chasm that seems to exist between this vision and that of many of Europe’s elites (if not its people), of a Europe defined by its anti-Americanism in many respects. Media reports made much of the juxtaposition of U. S. views with many European leaders on the issues of global warming, the death penalty, strategic missile defense, the effects of globalization, and others. In fact, one editorial made the point that, to many European leaders, the U. S. is increasingly the misfit of the Western democracies, with its insistence on the primacy of property rights, non-confiscatory taxation, free speech, etc., not to mention the worst of their complaints, our tendency toward “unilateralism” in foreign policy. Much of this chasm, I believe, can be explained by our history as what Charles Hill calls the “anti-Europe”, a nation founded in opposition to the social contract theory of Hobbes and Rousseau, in which the individual relinquishes his sovereignty in exchange for security and social welfare and in deference to the “general will”. In this, as I have commented in previous issues, America is exceptional, and it is President Bush’s belief in this exceptionalism within the context of a shared history “reaching from Jerusalem and Athens to Europe and Washington” that will enable him to craft a new post-Cold War order with the people of Europe. After all, as Condoleeza Rice has noted, the debate over the so-called “values gap” is taking place at a time when our core values—the common values of Western civilization—are ascendant.
A part of me had hoped to allow Bill Clinton to go away with good riddance and without editorial comment and to simply accept his eight years in our faces as an unfortunate mistake on the part of a large number of well-intentioned people who were duped by the best political con-man of the 20th century. And I have always begrudgingly given credit to Clinton where it is due—his amazing political instincts, his intellect, and his accurate perception of the transforming power of the technology-driven globalization of markets and culture. But the dominant part of me realizes that what we have witnessed is not, unfortunately, a passing fancy.
During the later months of Clinton’s term, a number of prominent talking heads persisted in the notion that nothing Clinton did approached the level of culpability of Richard Nixon. I disagree. Nixon was paranoid, insecure, and darkly neurotic. But Clintonism will prove to have been much more insidious, because it undermines truth and promotes duplicity as a way of public life. It corrupts the process. Clinton perfected the “permanent campaign” and made it an acceptable governing style, and the reasons we will “miss” him are the traits and legacy that make Clintonism so dangerous—the demagoguery, the duplicity, the solipsism, and the innate ability to be the chameleon, to morph into whatever one needs to be to please the immediate audience—a psychologist’s dream!
Clinton has often been described as our first baby boomer President, but more importantly, he was our first postmodern President—the truth is totally situational. As John O’Sullivan has noted, he is a different person for everyone he meets and, in the process, he fulfills every fantasy of the postmodern elites, because they can never repudiate him entirely or permanently. I’d like to think this was an aberration, that Clintonism will pass along with Bill Clinton. I’m not optimistic. The American people gave him a pass; we succumbed to the notion that morality and core principles are manifest only in public policy initiatives, that tolerance is the greatest virtue and that to judge is the greatest sin. “An ignoble moment for a great people”, in Bill Bennett’s words. Quite a few of his former “enablers”, primarily Democrats who no longer need him, have now surfaced to condemn various aspects of his tenure in office. Many have said that this or that transgression “must never happen again”. What must never happen again is to elect as President someone with as deeply flawed character as Bill Clinton. George Will said it best: “he is not the worst President the republic has had, but he is the worst person ever to have been President.”
If you care at all about college athletics or its relationship to the mission of higher education, I urge you to read the Report of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, released in June. This report is a follow-up to the Foundation’s report of 1991, which proposed what it called a “one plus three” approach for intercollegiate athletics—presidential control directed toward academic integrity, financial integrity, and independent certification of athletics programs—to rectify what it considered widespread abuses that were undermining the integrity of the sponsoring institutions.
In its recent report, the Commission finds that, despite considerable progress with its previously recommended reforms, “….the problems of big-time college sports have grown rather than diminished. The most glaring elements of the problems outlined—academic transgressions, a financial arms race, and commercialization—are all evidence of the widening chasm between higher education’s ideals and big-time college sports.” It recommends a new “one plus three” model—a Council of Presidents directed toward an agenda of academic reform, de-escalation of the athletic arms race, and de-emphasis of the commercialization of intercollegiate athletics. In short, the goal should be “the reintegration of college sports into the moral and institutional culture of the university”.
After reading the report, I cannot find one aspect of it with which I disagree, either in its findings or recommendations. In fact, I would have made some of the latter even stronger. My support of and involvement with college sports has been lifelong, but I have been greatly disappointed over the past couple of decades in the obvious trends in college athletics in which most major universities have been willing and often, no doubt, unwilling participants. At the major college level, we are, in effect, complicit in a lie—the myth of the student-athlete—and have become totally beholden to, and corrupted by, the professional sports leagues, particularly the NFL and NBA, in the management of our major men’s athletic programs.
No one wants success on the field and the court for my alma mater more than I do, but make no mistake—the trustees and alumni of our major universities are the only sources of leadership that can reverse the trends, which I believe we must do before the integrity of the mission of higher education is permanently undermined.
This summer, I have read three books that I recommend as a group to anyone who wants to understand the underlying currents of globalization and the new world order that is taking shape as a result. They are The Lexus and the Olive Tree, by Thomas L. Friedman, The End of History and the Last Man, by Francis Fukuyama, and The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, by Samuel P. Huntington. Each author has his own approach, premises, and conclusions, but a common thread is that nothing will ever be the same as we have known it since the end of World War II. In fact, the transformation is much broader and deeper, for it touches on the theme of Toffler’s The Third Wave, which is that we are living in the third major overhaul of human society. Whether you conclude with Fukuyama that the victory of liberal democracy represents the end product of man’s evolutionary progress, with Huntington that the world will be governed by a plurality of civilizations that are grounded in timeless cultures, or with Friedman that no culture will be immune to the “golden straitjacket” of technology-driven globalization, these readings will convince you that it will be a bumpy ride and we’re all in this together.