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You Got To Do What You Got To Do
October 22, 2003
By Bill King

When I returned to teaching high school fourteen years ago, I was as green as a first year novice. The kids were constantly "laying" for me. I had to stay on my toes; eyes wide open. I learned a lot of lessons that first year back, but the one that I most distinctly remember involved a boy named Billy.

One day as I was instructing a class on the finer points of something they cared nothing about, I sensed an incessant murmur in the back of the room. It was Billy mumbling to a buddy about one thing or another. After a couple of futile attempts to silence him, I moved him to the front of the room. As I seated him at a separate table, he murmured in a barely audible whisper, "You better watch your car, man."

Had I then been running on fourteen years of experience, I would have handled this little problem by myself with a brief but serious one-on-one talk after class. But I was a second-time rookie. This was a clear threat, and the principal needed to know about it.

Once we were seated in the principal's office, I recounted the episode, concluding with Billy's direct quote. The principal looked seriously and sternly at the young man. "Billy, did you threaten to do harm to Mr. King's car." To which Billy replied with a masterfully sincere conviction. "No sir! He must have misunderstood me. I would never threaten a teacher." Alas, it was his word against mine. With a faint warning from the principal about the seriousness of issuing threats, we were both dismissed.

As we were returning to the room, I stopped Billy in the hallway and asked him, "How could you lie like that?" He looked at me with wide eyes and a gleeful smirk and replied in a slowly measured cadence, "Hey, you got to do what you got to do."

I wanted to strangle the kid. The nerve of that punk. A bald faced lie and no remorse.

Several years later, when Bill Clinton was caught in his infamous lie, believe me, I could empathize with all of those conservative experts who wanted to throttle him as well. That the man had been weak and that his weakness had led him to disgrace himself, his family, and his country was bad enough. But to lie about it. That was the ultimate crime.

I must admit that I have learned a lot about morality from conservative experts. It seems to be their specialty. One thing that conservative experts know well is that telling lies are the acts of desperate scoundrels. No wonder they tried so hard to impeach Bill Clinton.

Conservative expert author, Bill Bennett was one of the leaders of that impeachment chorus. Bennett was the guy who wrote that bestseller The Book of Virtues. It was a tome full of aphorisms and anecdotes about living well with integrity and fortitude that inspired so many of our young. Just about every school library in America has a copy.

Rush Limbaugh was also a member of the virtue posse. He lambasted Clinton for years, indeed, is still lambasting him for telling that whopper. With moral clarity and conviction, Rush has been faithful in maintaining America's chasteness and purity during his fifteen years of self-proclaimed broadcasting excellence. Thank goodness for the likes of these two.

And remember that triumvirate of virtue, Bob Livingston, Newt Gingrich, and Henry Hyde. They led the charge in the House of Representatives to rid the nation of that "lying liar" Clinton. If it were not for those namby-pamby relativistic whacko liberals, they may well have succeeded.

Now some may want to rain on my little parade of praise and adoration for these honorable experts. Some of those killjoys might try to remind us that Bill Bennett was recently exposed as a compulsive gambler. Seems he dropped $8 million in casino slot machines over the last ten years. But, hey, while he may have made a living condemning the weaknesses and abominations of druggies, unchaste teens, and liars, he never once condemned gamblers. He may have been a compulsive gambler, but he was no hypocrite and, above all else, he was not a scoundrel liar like Bill Clinton.

Others might mention Rush Limbaugh's problem with prescription drugs. But at least he came clean on the issue. So what if it took the threat of public exposure and jail time to bring it out of him? So what if he was known to have had no sympathy for fellow "druggies" convicted of and serving time for similar drug offenses? So what if he agreed that they all ought to be "sent up the river?" At least you can't say he was a liar.

As for the three congressmen? All three of them, like Bill Clinton, were guilty of adultery, and may not have admitted to it until they were exposed in the press. They may even have been hypocrites, but at least they didn't lie about it.

I have learned a lot from conservative experts. We are all human and we all are sinners. We all fall short on occasion. But if you hold the office of the President of the United States, one thing you can never, ever do is lie. All of these fellows that I have mentioned may have "lived" a lie, but that's not the same as "telling" a lie. It's high time that we fuzzy headed liberals learned the difference.

This lesson, courtesy of so many conservative experts, however, has recently presented me with a dilemma. I am having a hard time rationalizing the many prevarications of George W. Bush. Teddy Kennedy (no saint himself) outlined them the other day. In the lead-up to the war, Bush told the American people that Saddam was building nuclear weapons, stockpiling massive amounts of weapons of mass destruction, was involved with the 9/11 attack, and was attracting terrorists from Al Qaeda. Kennedy continued, "We were told our soldiers would be viewed as liberators. They were not. We were told Iraq could pay for its own reconstruction. It cannot. We were told that the war would make American safer. It has not."

You see my problem, don't you? All of these assertions were (how shall I say it?) lies. Where are the conservative experts now when I need help with this moral dilemma? Where are the crowds calling for impeachment for these serious lies that have had such a devastating and, in many cases, terminal impact on so many? Where are the conservative moralists to sort it all out for me?

Then rises again the memory of Billy. Then echoes again the words of his youthful indiscretion. For it is Billy's strange brand of "moral" clarity that rises now above the din of pathetic excuses. It provides an answer that the conservative experts wouldn't want to trumpet as moral or even as their own, but to which in private they all seem so sadly resigned. I can hear it now, "Mr. President, how could you lie like that?" And the President's reply with that characteristic gleaming eye and ever-present smirkiness? "Hey, you got to do what you got to do."

Bill King teaches high school in Kingston Springs, TN.

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