We Have Turned Against the Ultimate Value Family Values, Round 2: Now Clinton and Quayle Both Endorse Them

September 14, 1994|By CAL THOMAS

Washington -- Suddenly, values are hot. Within 24 hours last week, President Clinton and former Vice President Quayle delivered speeches on values, or more precisely, the absence of them in modern America.

Mr. Quayle revisited the site of his ''Murphy Brown'' speech two years ago to reiterate many of the ideas he expressed then and add that blame for the ''poverty of values'' should be fixed on the '60s and the baby-boom generation of which he and Bill Clinton are such prominent members.

The president, speaking in a New Orleans church, also bemoaned the loss of personal and cultural values. Both men correctly noted that government cannot fill the void. The effect that banning some ''assault weapons'' will have on crime is debatable. The effect on culture from the assault on our souls is not.

The Jewish Theological Seminary of America took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to bemoan the growing moral wasteland. ''As a society,'' the ad stated, ''we've just about given up expecting people to take personal responsibility for what they do: from petty misconduct to abusive talk to drunk driving to family violence to mass murder, the fault lies beyond the doer of the deed.''

The United States is becoming Europeanized, which is to say totally secularized, in its public institutions and increasingly in the private lives of a majority of its citizens. The French government last week banned the wearing of Muslim head scarves in public schools, asserting that the practice violates a tradition of secular education. The United States, of course, has banned prayer and the posting of the Ten Commandments in our schools.

The war against religion and the higher values and benefits it brings to a nation has brought us to our present moment.

We cannot say we weren't warned. George Washington said: ''Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.''

Viewing the coming secularism of Europe two centuries ago, Edmund Burke wrote: ''The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists and calculators, has succeeded: and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.''

In ''The Brothers Karamazov,'' Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote that ''if God does not exist, everything is permissible.'' That is precisely the point at which America has arrived, a point where fatherless children shoot each other. Outrageous behavior is bemoaned, but tolerated, and those who seek to impose constraints from without and develop them within are challenged as puritanical threats to the misread and misinterpreted Constitution. The ideas and beliefs that could save us are rejected as anti-intellectual, unconstitutional, simplistic and unworkable.

The president and Mr. Quayle rightly caution that government's power to restore our lost values is limited, but there is much that government can do to stop assisting the moral rot. Speeches aren't enough.

If we say we want a generation of hopeful young people, President Clinton, school teachers, the entertainment industry and all the rest of us must give them something to hope for. Here, I think, is where Mr. Quayle excelled. He said:

''Something is missing amid all our affluence, some common ethical code that could set a clear standard for behavior, that could tell us what is and what is not acceptable conduct. . . . We are still living, in large measure, with the consequences of what was taught and filmed and recorded a quarter-century ago, when we seemed to be building a brave new world -- or at least a great society. Back then, values were something to rebel against, not embrace. The recent anniversary of Woodstock was a reminder of just how far out of control we were.''

Politicians will try to capture the values agenda for themselves, but ultimately, only individuals can do that. What we need is another great awakening, a simultaneous ''coming to our senses.'' Neither princes, nor kings, nor presidents have that power. Only God does, and America's steady moral decline can be traced to the moment we collectively decided to turn our backs on him.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

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