Clinton, Pleasure& the Top of the Pyramid
Jude Wanniski
January 28, 1998

Memo To: Website Browsers, Fans, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: A Question from an SSU student, Russell Whiting

Q: Dear Jude and classmates Christmas memo of last year concerning classical music. The following passage seemed relevant. "The amount of pleasure a person can get from sex, or food, or drink, or winning at cards or dice, or reading great works of literature, is tiny compared to the pleasure derived from classical music over the course of his life." Is this passage helpful at all in appraising how it is that we, in acting ethically, should prioritize the pursuit of pleasure in our lives? If Clinton had had the same perspective, presumably built over a lifetime of experience and maturity, would he be facing the same difficulties he is at present? I believe that Jude prides himself on being able to examine an existing set of circumstances, particularly in the realm of economics, in order to offer a prediction concerning future developments. Care to offer us your perspective, Jude? However, please don't neglect the previous portion of the question. That is, apparently you have developed a method of prioritizing the pursuit of pleasure which encompasses certain value judgments. I would be most interested in your analysis and that of the class.

A: I did not put classical music at the top of my list of pleasure, except in the sense that if you can learn to appreciate it early in life, you will get a greater volume of pleasure out of it than you can from other sensory pleasures, which quickly sate the appetite. You can listen to music all day long and not grow weary of it. There is nothing else as pleasurable that I can endure all day long. Why is the question related to the President? Well, golf is not bad as a sex substitute, but music has charms to soothe a savage breast, as William Congreve observed long ago.

It is hard for me to see how Clinton survives this crisis. I'm supposing he will resign as the story continues to unfold and it becomes increasingly painful to observe, especially for the Democratic Party. As a political man climbs the power pyramid, it is not surprising that he manifests the same behavior as the stag vying for dominance of the herd. The electorate will overlook the sex drive if his essential mate does not seem to mind. China and the Islamic world solved this problem centuries ago by permitting harems. On page 27 of The Way the World Works, I noted: "The experimentation with hereditary rule occupied most of civilized history, with communities groping toward systems that at times seemed to approximate the current state of the art of managerial science. Through the middle and near east, polygamy enabled the 'talent pool' to be broadened, with Chinese emperors and Arab sheiks working with their counselors and cabinets bringing along many sons of many wives or concubines so that one could be selected for succession."

Our culture has not evolved in the same fashion, and we expected President Bill would substitute golf for his previous pastimes once inaugurated. The cultural role model he presents, as "father of the country," is a deadly one for our young children to observe. My daughter Jennifer teaches 5- and 6-year old kids, and she told me last night that they are all having trouble understanding why the President is in trouble, that kissing a girl who is not his wife is cheating, which is all they can understand about what they are seeing. Men who analyze the President's situation tend to think of the laws he might have broken and his odds of avoiding a legal proceeding and conviction. Women, not all, but those like my wife and daughter, are not thinking about formal rules, but of the culture. They have already pronounced sentence. We saw this on the weekend talk shows, when Kate O'Beirne of National Review and Cokie Roberts of ABC brushed aside the legalisms and argued that the President may not be able to survive the court of public opinion. The Chinese have termed this the Mandate of Heaven. When you lose it, it's gone, which is what happened to President Nixon in 1968 and is what is eating away at Mr. Clinton.

What next? My sense is that this factor will gather weight and overtake the public's sense that he has been an okay leader otherwise. Especially if the sordid details come out and are as sordid as the rumors. Hillary can forgive Bill for his personal weakness, knowing it is part of the drive that got him to the top. The rest of the country cannot be as forgiving, because of what forgiveness at this point will do to the culture going forward. Maybe I'm wrong, but I do assure you until last week I've dismissed the complaints against the President regarding his sex life because it involved the time before he was inaugurated. Think of the contrast with Ronald Reagan, whose respect for the Oval Office was such that he never took off his suit jacket while working there.