Review: The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals

The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals
The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals by William J. Bennett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An erudite, cogent argument against the loss of shame and outrage in America.

I’m not one to read books on politics or on lusty politicians and their tawdry affairs. This book, sold for a dollar at an annex to my local library, caught my attention. I’m glad it did, for I read it in a couple of days. The book is about Bill Clinton. Yes, William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States of America. One whose personal shenanigans have redefined the American Presidency. One whose term gave birth to phrases such as “Bimbo Eruptions.”

More specifically, the book delves into arguments and actions defending this politician, who came under independent counsel scrutiny while in office, and the author’s response diligently refuting such arguments. William J. Bennett called the book “The Death of Outrage,” and the book does read like a dying rattle of the contorted and suffocated social consciousness of a confused nation.

The author’s passion, a structured approach to the subject matter, and the level of detail in the work all contribute to making it rather engaging. Clearly, Mr. Bennett holds deep feelings about Mr. Clinton escaping democratic, widespread condemnation, and richly deserved punishment. Here is a man who has abused power wherever he could, abused his influence over women, and abused the dignity of high offices he has held. A politician who tattooed “The end justifies the means” on all American minds (and bodies?) he is alleged to have groped. And yet he stands unaffected by any disapprobation: “This is a man immune to shame” writes Mr. Bennett. Could the author be right? His book does go a long way to shedding light on a festering infection on America’s civic thinking.

But is it really outrage that matters? Can laws mandate ethical conduct? Or can the outrage of governed masses, or that expressed by the author, compel principled behavior in politicians? The author makes compelling arguments, albeit by interpreting theological passages, against the absence of judgment, and the quotidian advocacy of tolerance and love. Try telling parents of chronically ill-behaved children the same thing; they’d likely take the author’s point of view.

Bennett’s arguments come across at times as sweeping and preachy. He writes, for instance, “Human nature is fallen.” True – in his case especially – for he has been outed as a compulsive gambler who has squandered large sums of money. But not true – in the general case, in all other religions and cultures that are part of this nation of immigrants. He claims, with ineffable, clueless confidence, that “…the words of the Declaration of Independence define much of the world’s moral currency.” He is perhaps not aware of (or conveniently ignores) the American poetess Phyllis Wheatley’s words that referred to an inherent strange absurdity in the very same declaration, when she wrote about “…the insistence upon liberty by the patriots and their [simultaneous] tolerance of African American slavery…

At times wordy and verbose, Bennett laces his writing with the occasional hyperbole. One such that caught my eye: “…bordering on the intergalactic.” His tenure as the Secretary of Education may be the cause. Nevertheless, I found the book easy to read. The hyperbole is – forgivable. The author delves into religion and theological interpretations near the end – presumably because such arguments are thrown in to defend the indefensible – which are easily skimmed over.

The one burning question that the book left me with is this: if sexual misconduct and questionable cover-ups by a politician can merit a $40 million+ investigation by independent counsel, and impeachment proceedings, why isn’t the unilateral invasion of another country, slaughter of hundreds of thousands, and breaches of all international agreements on treatment of prisoners, all on evidently false pretexts, by another ex-US-president, not subject to similar and even greater scrutiny? Have we Americans lost all sense of shame, outrage, and self-consciousness?

A book, if read with an open and non-partisan mind, that can be of much value to those attuned to social consciousness and its refinement.
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About Rian Nejar

Rian Nejar is an Indian-American author. He trained and worked as an engineer in India, lived briefly in the Middle East, and arrived in America in the early 90's. After a Master’s degree in electrical engineering in America, he worked as an academic instructor, engineer, entrepreneur, and technical writer over the two decades since. Humbling and Humility is the first heartfelt written expression of his varied life experiences. He lives and writes in the Southwest United States.
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