by Tom McEnery
Last month I visited a place well known in American history: Omaha Beach. It is difficult to imagine these placid sands were once the site of one of the great, bloody events in World War II. There, 54 years ago, young men gave their last full measure of devotion to free Europe.
Nowhere was this better exemplified that at Pointe du Hoc, where American Rangers scaled sheer cliffs under murderous fire to destroy German guns overlooking the landing beaches. They were not reckless, but very committed, led by a 34-year-old colonel. Of the 225 who began the assault, only 90 survived the day’s fighting–but the guns were destroyed. They paid the price and earned a nation’s honor.
In 1984, President Reagan, addressing the survivors of this gallant effort, asked a rhetorical “Why?” The answer is simple, yet unfathomable: It was a matter of faith and belief. Both of these are sometimes in short supply in our country today. One might call it a question of character.
We often look for such qualities in our leaders. As the generation who fought in that great war, passed from power and was succeeded by the “baby boomer” generation, many wondered if they would acquit themselves as well. The jury is in: 0 for 1. Bill Clinton, who began with such promise, has slid into a quagmire of his own making and seems adrift in a sea of cynicism.
Though Clinton was condemned by many as the product of a corrupt backwater state, many prayed his actions would equal his rhetoric. If it was possible for Harry Truman to lift himself from his early machine beginnings to become a great leader, so too might Clinton be ennobled by the mantle of office.
It has not happened. The answer lies in a single word: character. Some have it; some don’t. Rising from a troubled family, Clinton had the opportunity only a chosen few receive–to inspire and earn the respect of a nation.
I know of such men: Carlos Ogden, who earned the Medal of Honor a few miles from Omaha Beach; and Bobby Jacobs–the son of Leon Jacobs, the clothier on South First Street, who played poker every Monday night with my dad– who made the ultimate sacrifice in France. There are many more in our community. They knew much of price and value.
Remember the admonition given by Capt. John Miller in “Saving Private Ryan”? He told the young, rescued soldier to “earn” the chance he had been given. Perhaps few in our generation have had the courage and judgment to pay the price as did the boys of Pointe du Hoc. Fewer still have the mettle as men or as leaders to rally and inspire by example. Yet only a handful have failed on so large a stage as William Jefferson Clinton. He is a man who weighted very lightly what he risked.
Although this matter is confusing, it is not complicated. There is no doubt he is assailed by some knaves. It is a certainty that he is blindly defended by lackeys and belatedly condemned by moral cowards. But as one who looked at him with hope, even admiration, I must utter a sigh of dismay.
As you stand on the beach at Omaha, it becomes clear: There is no place for such a cynical and reckless man as our president. It is not a time for a person so unwilling to pay the price. This is not a matter of partisanship or pique; clearly, his judgment shows he is devoid of a key element of character.
Certainly Bill Clinton was never headed for a bust on Mount Rushmore; but cartoonists, to our disgust, will forevermore be able to caricature a much different appendage of his anatomy, in sharp contrast to those men of distinction. It is not the fault of the cartoonists; it did not have to be this way.
What was he thinking? His actions may not be a high crime, but surely they constituted much more than a “private folly.” It is a shame.
Tom McEnery is former mayor of San Jose.