Paterno, Clinton and Gingrich: Why Personal Morals Matter

By Doug Newman

(If you are not a sports degenerate like I am, please bear with me for a few paragraphs.)

It is such a shocking and tragic story in so many ways that no one knows where to begin. Just over a week ago, Joe Paterno was the most revered figure in contemporary American sports. He led the Penn State Nittany Lions football team to a Division I record 409 victories, two national championships and six undefeated seasons. Moreover, he had been a paragon of integrity and honor in the hideously corrupt world of college sports. In his 46 years at the helm, there had been no recruiting violations, his players graduated at a very high rate and he did extensive work to enhance the academic stature of the university.

For Paterno, winning was neither everything nor the only thing. Perhaps the best portrayal of the Joe we thought we knew is this article from 1986 when Sports Illustrated named him “Sportsman of the Year.”

I had suspected for years that Paterno’s legendary career wouldn’t end well. Most likely, I thought it would come in the form of an ultimatum from his physician that he was just no longer physically equal to the demands of his job. (Paterno will be 85 in December.)

Nittany cryin'.

And then the dam broke: Paterno had looked the other way for years while long time assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had – according to a grand jury indictment – sexually assaulted eight young boys. Several more accusers have come forth since. We will probably never know how many boys were molested, i.e. had their lives he destroyed.

Yes, Paterno notified his bosses at Penn State, thus complying with state law. Merely complying with the law, however, is a very weak moral standard. Just because the law permits something – abortion, pornography, membership in the KKK – doesn’t make it morally right.

Paterno was the leader of a boys’ club that never notified the authorities of Sandusky’s alleged hideous crimes. And when this was revealed, the whole empire imploded. Has anyone in any endeavor ever gone from hero to zero as fast as Paterno?

(Please read Bill Anderson’s piece on the need for due process in this case. Let us never forget that the rules of due process apply regardless of the severity of the accusation or the weight of public opinion against the defendant.)

Barroid, Roidger, A-roid, etc. voluntarily consumed steroids. And, while no one loves dogs more than I do, Michael Vick’s crimes were against dogs, not human beings. Penn State will go down as the worst sports scandal ever. Or at least thus far. If you can conceive of something more monumental, what are you ingesting? I want some.

It will probably get worse before it gets better. First, there is the case of the missing prosecutor. Then, I was directed to this link by an author whom I respect highly and who does not recklessly traffic in rumors. He does his homework. God, I hope it isn’t true.

This brings me to a larger cultural and political issue: The personal lives of public figures matter. And the more public the person, the more their personal life matters. Why? Because the more public they are, the more powerful they are over you and me.

For two years – 1998 and 1999 – we heard no end from the political and religious Right about Bill Clinton’s lying under oath about his extramarital dalliances with Monica, as well as his other “bimbo eruptions.” They rightfully contended that since he could not keep his marriage vows – the most solemn vows one ever makes – how could he be trusted to remain faithful to his oath of office?

Rush Limbaugh – who built an empire lampooning the foibles of Bill Clinton – was fond of asking: “If character doesn’t matter, why isn’t Ted Kennedy president?” (Limbaugh was also a militant drug warrior until it was revealed that he himself – America’s Truth Detector – had quite the Jones.)

These same people who could not shut up about Bill Clinton’s whoremongering sing quite a different tune when it comes to the whoremongering of John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich. They engage in the same situational ethics they condemn when practiced by the Left. Being a man about town is just not as big a deal when one is on the Right.

Two of a kind.

In 2008, a caller to the Hannity show rationalized John McCain’s cheating on his first wife thusly: He was not far removed from being a POW.

If the Hanoi Hilton jacked with McCain’s sense of morality that badly, he shouldn’t be a dog catcher in the Canal Zone, let alone a senator or president.

In a little less than a year, the American people will vote to either re-elect or to replace Obama. Whoever wins will inherit Soviet-style absolute power. This is not an exaggeration. It was bad enough when the president could merely tax us into the pavement, micromanage our lives with endless incomprehensible laws and regulations, imprison us for possessing a plant that grows wild in every county and have his blue-shirted flunkies sexually assault us as a condition of travel.

Obama has taken things to the next level. He started a war in Libya by executive order and ordered the killing an American citizen – Anwar Al-Awlaki – on a mere accusation with no due process, evidence, witnesses, judge, jury or right to counsel.

If this is not absolute Soviet-style power, what is it? What can’t the president now do?

The only candidate in the field who has a problem with this – Ron Paul – has been married to the same woman for 54 years. His worst vice is chocolate chip cookies.

And why does the Right do everything they can to bury his very existence? Because they are just as desperate for a political savior as those on the Left. And while they talk differently and appeal to a different fan base, they are just as enamored with absolute power. They want a Great Leader to worship and adore. They have a perilous desire to put unlimited trust in a man who could not even keep his own marital vows. And when you bring this up to them, they respond with the lamest of rationalizations.

The left-wing cult of Obama does not surprise me one bit after eight years of the Religious Right almost adding Dubya to the Holy Trinity. No human being should have as much power as American presidents now have. The Bible tells us that one day a political leader will truly be deified – Revelation 13:3.

Joe Paterno, for all his success as a coach and contributions to Penn State as a whole, was profoundly flawed. We – that includes me – put entirely too much faith in him. While his influence was great, his actual power was relatively limited.

Joe Paterno on Wednesday, November 9, oversees practice one last time. How could so many wonderful years end so tragically? And this is the least of the injustices.

The framers of the Constitution strictly limited the powers of the president. He has six authorized powers, only one of which he can exercise directly on you or me: the power to pardon.

The Constitution, while imperfect, was written by men with a profound understanding of human nature.  However, it is not a self-enforcing document. If the moral constitution of the American people is sufficiently weak, they will inevitably place unlimited trust and power in a political leader. And they will do so while ignoring the relevant details of their personal conduct.

In the end, they will be far more disappointed in their Dear Leader than so many of us now are in Joe Paterno.

Placing unlimited faith in flawed human beings is a recipe for unlimited disaster. This is just one of many lessons to be learned from the firestorm that now rages in what was known for decades as Happy Valley.

If you would like to post this elsewhere, please email me and include a link to this URL.


About Food for the Thinkers

My name is Doug Newman. I live in Aurora, Colorado, just outside Denver. Food for the Thinkers is mostly about the connection between Christianity and libertarianism. Most Christians do not understand libertarianism. And most libertarians do not understand Christianity. Hopefully, this blog helps clear up those misunderstanding. Check out my old page at And remember: When you let people do whatever they want, you get Woodstock. But when you let governments do whatever they want, you get Auschwitz.
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3 Responses to Paterno, Clinton and Gingrich: Why Personal Morals Matter

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