While President Clinton leaves office pointing to the achievements of hisadministration, a leading historian has claimed that he will be bestremembered as a victim of America'sChristian Right.

Author and cultural critic Neal Gabler says Clinton's presidency wasturned into "a struggle between the forces of cultural secularism and moralreligiosity," and that "impeachment was to be the Armageddon."

In a commentary published in The Los Angeles Times and TheInternational Herald Tribune this week, Gabler says future historians willprobably see the impeachment and trial of the country's 42nd president inthe Monica Lewinsky scandal as "one of the major battles in an ongoingcultural war," and the man himself as "the whipping boy of America's thirdgreat awakening."

A senior fellow at the Norman Lear Center at the University of SouthernCalifornia, Gabler describes that awakening as "a powerful religious revivalthat decisively reshaped the political landscape." Beginning in the 1980s,the movement has made allowance for salvation through conversion, but at itscore "seems more interested in attacking miscreants than saving them," hesays.

In his farewell address to the nation after eight years inoffice, President Clinton said American families and communities werestronger than ever. He said he had steered his course "by our enduringvalues." Urging the country's continued leadership in world affairs, he saidthe nation also needed to work on overcoming differences at home.
"We must treat all our people with fairness and dignity, regardless oftheir race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, and regardless of whenthey arrived in our country, always moving toward the more perfect union ofour founders' dreams," he said.

Gabler says the third great religious awakening has taken its politicalmission even more seriously than the previous movements "and aims it moredirectly at its enemies." He said it organized ad hoc campaigns andmobilized support for and involvement in the Republican Party, converting itfrom "a political organization dedicated to effecting policy, as partiestraditionally did, into one that was also dedicated to eradicating sin,which is an entirely new function."

Gabler says the transformation of the GOP into a "religious instrument" is"probably the biggest American political story of our time, and one of thebiggest cultural ones too." Long before the Lewinsky affair, PresidentClinton was "everything the awakeners detested, everything they believed wasleading the country astray."

When the Lewinsky scandal broke, "the awakeners bagged their sinner andcould subject him to ritual damnation." Whether he becomes viewed as achampion of secular tolerance or a symbol of immorality, Clinton will "mostcertainly be defined by his relationship to the third great awakening ratherthan by the achievements of his administration."
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