How Loyal Should We Be?

In my mind I'm a youngster again and it's game day. That means that it's football season and the University of Illinois team is playing some strong adversary. Perhaps it's Ohio State or Michigan - our biggest rivals.

As I sit at my typewriter (yes, my typewriter) and think back on those days, I recall how excited I was on those mornings before the games. Dad, the county surveyor, always had some work to do before we went out to the stadium - which was only a few blocks away from where we lived in Urbana, Ill. Often we'd go out together and check some measurements. But we'd talk football the whole time - how well we thought the Illini would do, what a win would do to our place in the standings. Then we'd be off to the stadium, the first to arrive so that we'd be able to see the final workouts of our team and watch the band come in and play.

Often our team would win - because those were good years for the Illini. Sometimes, of course, we would lose. But win or lose we always stayed to the end and then stood up to sing "Illinois Loyalty."

Why am I telling you all this? Well, part of the reason is that it really is game day as I write this and Illinois will be playing Ohio State. But this time Ohio State ranks No. 1 in the country and my team, which didn't win a game last year, is due for a trouncing. But I've been remembering that when the Buckeyes would whip us badly, Dad and I would be there at the end, singing our song of enduring loyalty. Dad, of course, had been teaching me something very important: Not to give up on what I believed in.

I've also been thinking much of late about where our loyalty as citizens should be. Is it to a political party or to our president? Or isn't it really good government, honest government, that deserves our abiding loyalty?

Indeed, it is the conviction that our loyalty should be to a government shaped by high principles - a government of laws, not of men - which has based my criticism of the president's conduct. It is nothing personal. And personally I've found Bill Clinton most likable. He is warm; he is charming. If you don't believe me, get up close to him sometime and feel what some have called the "Clinton touch." You are bound to be flattered by his interest in you and what you are saying. And - unless you are a never-relenting Clinton hater - you will probably admit that you are drawn to the man.

Indeed, President Clinton has been particularly attentive to me - doubtless because I'm the "old-timer" in the press corps. On what some regard as a landmark birthday of mine, Mr. Clinton hosted a meeting with the Monitor's press group in the White House state dining room and turned it into a party, with cake and all.

And from time to time the president has singled out columns of mine for favorable comment. After I had commended him for his "gutsy performance" at a Gridiron show where, despite repeated digs at him, he had kept right on smiling, I got a handwritten note in which he said, in part: "I enjoyed it [the column] immensely but with a few grains of salt. If I were half as good as you suggest, I would have had half as much grief over the last five years."

So I have no reason to "get" this president - as a few of my readers have suggested. One doesn't have a "vendetta" against someone you don't hate.

Indeed, my feeling is that this is a president who has some wonderful qualities. He is brilliant; he is hard-working; he wants to do good. But he is also deeply flawed. And this flaw, I believe, is not something that is just personal and with no bearing on his presidency - as some supporters of Clinton contend. No, the way Clinton has conducted himself has demeaned our country and the American people. And I wish I didn't have to say that.

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