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War of words

War of words

Reason controlled by dark forces until it's harnessed by Christ

Several dozen men with their minds already made up, a thinly disguised lynch mob, crowded together in a judicial chamber for the purpose of an open-ended inquiry into justice. Matthew 26, of course. Or Acts 23. But you'd be forgiven if you thought I meant the impeachment hearings underway in Washington last month.

The players are different, the Sanhedrin is now the House Judiciary Committee, and the ephod has given way to Armani suits; but the thing that rivets me, in my personal fascination with words, is the timeless stuff-the breathtaking gymnastics of words as artillery, argumentation as strategy.

Reason is a whore-and the worst kind, because she looks so sincere, so high-minded. Consider two mutually exclusive characterizations of the present situation: (1) Clinton-haters versus an American majority wanting to get on with the important business of the country (Barney Frank); (2) Preservers of the Constitution and the integrity of the Presidency versus cynical protectors of self-interest (David Schippers). Consider the President's attorney David Kendall, pressing his case for his client, and against Starr, with such persuasiveness that you'd think he was defending Mother Teresa against Attila the Hun.

I was first on to Reason when I made the mundane observation, somewhere in my teens, that arguments never change anybody's mind. If you doubt me, when's the last time you saw a Firing Line or a McLaughlin Group or a presidential debate that ended early because one of the parties, in sudden epiphany wrought by his interlocutor's evidences, declared, "By golly, I hadn't thought of that! I must go home and reevaluate my position"?

"The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him" (Proverbs 18:17). Why? Because the first man has left something out on purpose, been selective in his evidence, kept something up his sleeve. He is setting a trap, lying in ambush. (The mind leaps to Scripture: "Truth has perished"; "There is no one righteous, not even one"; "Their mouths are open graves"; "They make ready their tongue like a bow, to shoot lies.") The Democrats have put forth their Goliath, counsel Abbe Lowell, and he sees that the substance of Judge Starr's case is unassailable, so he will impeach the witness himself, desperately caviling for 30 minutes over hermeneutical points involving a small press release sometime back in 1997. (Talk about straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!) Still, he is the one who looks nervous.

By contrast, the man in the witness chair, the most hated man in the room (in the country?) looks strangely serene, possessed of the peace of those who, because they intend to tell the truth, don't have to work quite so hard to keep their story straight. He is gentlemanly, polite; though interrupted he does not interrupt. Sitting there among the pack, who are beginning to show the wear of almost a year of wild roller coaster rides on polls and fickle mob psychology, he seems oddly out of place: a straight, unperturbed trajectory through the storm: Comes to work. Does his job. Is looking forward to private life.

Of course Margaret Carlson and Eleanor Clift don't see that Starr. They see a man "prissy" and "pedantic," "a bad college lecturer," exuding "boring didacticism"(Is this the worst mud they can sling at him!). Which only serves to prove the point that justice and understanding are not the ineluctable products of an adequate accumulation of facts. There are no "brute facts" in life, only interpretive facts.

I am a mother, and every mother in America knows that no one is so legalistic and "technically" innocent as a scoundrel. Words are the stock in trade of mischief: "Mom, I didn't 'hit' Johnny, I just sort of 'tapped' him!" If you ever thought you lived your life by reason, you are quickly disabused as a parent. You learn that reason is the lackey of darker and deeper forces; you learn that Congress is only ostensibly more sophisticated than a playground. And, Lord willing, you learn that only in Christ is reason ever harnessed to truth, and a man, like the demoniac in the Gerasenes, ever put "in his right mind."