Washington Post Gets It Wrong-Law and Naivete
In a speech last July, President Bush responded to the corporate scandals by saying, "There is no capitalism without conscience; there is no wealth without character."
by Chuck Colson
The Washington Post fired back that conscience, basically, has nothing to do with it. Challenging Bush, the Post wrote, "There's no harm in this rhetoric, but it is naive to suppose that business can be regulated by some kind of national honors code."
Don't we ever learn? When I was in the White House serving President Nixon, I knew what the law was. I was trained in it. There were plenty of laws on the books forbidding precisely the kind of abuses that we rationalized ourselves into in the Nixon White House. By the time I sat down and though about it and realized we were backing ourselves into a serious conspiracy that could topple a president, it was too late. I warned the President, but to no avail.
No amount of additional laws or regulations would have stopped Watergate. It happened because people cut corners, did what they thought was necessary for the president to survive, and covered their own misdeeds rather than expose themselves and their colleagues. All the time we were rationalizing that what we were doing was in the interest of the country. Is anyone so naive to think that more laws would have changed this?
But, of course, in the wake of Watergate came the same hue and cry we're hearing in Congress today; Toughen up; crack down; send people to jail. So we enacted an array of new campaign finance laws; the Church hearings reformed the intelligence apparatus so a president could not abuse his power by misusing agencies; and criminal statues were toughened up.
Did we, therefore, usher in a period of "good government" and no more scandals? Ha! We had Iran Contra in the Regan years, and then we had the Clinton scandals that resulted in the impeachment of a president in the nineties. And now in this Congress we've thrown out all the Watergate-era reforms and rewritten campaign finance laws because we discovered that they did not work-and, in fact, the problem had become worse.
What fools we are when we think we can legislate away the immorality of human beings. I stand as living proof that the cure comes, not from laws and statues, but the transforming of the human heart-the embracing of a moral code to which people, by their consciences, bind themselves. As Samuel Johnson famously wrote, "How small of all that human hearts endure/That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!"
If we follow the counsel of the Washington Post and others, we will miss the great lesson of this scandal?and the scandals that have gone before it. We will pass a whole series of laws, many of which, as my experience in Watergate demonstrates, will later be repealed as ineffective. We will buy ourselves a deterrent for maybe the next decade that is, until the next wave of scandal hits.
The alternative is to take a bracing dose of reality, to recognize that the enemy is moral relativism and moral confusion, to embrace once again a solid code by which conscience can be informed, and then go about the business of strengthening the conscience of the nation. The president is right. Without conscience, capitalism fails. And to believe otherwise - that's utterly naive.