Gore as Caligula?

Investigating the Roman architecture of Al loathing

By Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute

5/10/00 10:30 a.m., National Review Online. More by Kopel on Roman history.

A recent article in The New Republic by Michelle Cottle points out the difficulties that "Clinton haters" are having in transferring their loathing to Al Gore. I think she's right in the short run — but perhaps not long term.

Although — as National Review has observed — Gore's policies are "worse than Clinton's," the basis for Clinton-hating was never policy-based. Thus, Gore's nutty positions on automobile abolition and the like can never inspire hatred. (Ridicule maybe, but not hatred.) Similarly, even though Gerald Ford was more conservative than Richard Nixon, Ford never attracted the kind of hatred that Nixon did among liberals.

What really bothers people about Clinton (and what bothered some of the same people, including me, about Nixon) is that Clinton epitomizes the moral decline of the nation. The United States has become dangerously like the degenerate Roman Republic in its final decades: a prosperous and powerful empire whose citizens and leaders are losing the virtue which is essential to the survival of a free society.

At times, Clinton seems like a one-man agglomeration of the vices of the early Roman emperors and would-be emperors. Like Julius Caesar, his lust for unchecked power impels him to destroy the traditional republican constitution, even while he pretends to venerate it and the rule of law. Like Mark Antony he is a brilliant demagogue. Like Caligula, he is a pathological narcissist and a violent criminal. Like Augustus Caesar, he is too cowardly to face battle himself, but he sends young men to face death in imperial wars. Like Claudius, his mate is at least as power-hungry, wicked, and dangerous as he.

While most Americans who loathe Clinton cannot list all the Roman Emperors, they can tell that the American character has degenerated under the bad example of Bill Clinton, and that parents who hope to raise their children to be honest, honorable people have a harder time doing so when a scoundrel such as Bill Clinton is placed in our nation's highest place of honor.

Compared to the Clinton catalogue of infamy, Gore looks pretty good. Like the first Caesar, he doesn't care much for constitutional limitations, but he shares none of the other vices of Antony, Augustus, Caligula, Claudius, and Clinton.

We should remember, however, that widespread Clinton-loathing did not get started until 1994, after the American people had seen him him as President for a year.

Should Gore follow in Clinton's footsteps, the American people will suffer another President who bases his policies almost entirely on political calculation rather than principal, who lies about everything, and who practices race-baiting and foments racial division.

So before assuming that Gore could never inspire the antipathy that Clinton has, it might be wise to wait until around July 2002, to see whether President Gore is one of those presidents whose character is improved by election to the highest office (as Kennedy's was), or a president who views his election as authorization to let his dark side blossom unrestrained (as Clinton did).

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