All Too Human

"Ingrate." "Commentraiter." "A poster boy for betrayal." These are just some of the insults being flung at former presidential aide George Stephanopoulos. Stephanopoulos's new book, All Too Human, is rocketing up the bestseller lists, and his critics are wondering why he is turning on the man who made him a national figure. But the book itself raises a much more important question: Why do smart, well-intentioned people compromise their ethics? Stephanopoulos clearly has a strong sense of right and wrong. For starters, his grandfather, father, uncle, and godfather were all Greek Orthodox priests. What's more, as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, Stephanopoulos studied Christian ethics. As Stephanopoulos puts it, "I read Augustine and Aquinas, Martin Luther and Rheinhold Niebuhr, analyzing the fundamental questions of politics from the fundamental perspective of what was right rather than what would work." As Stephanopoulos himself admits, Clinton's flaws hardly caught him by surprise. He says the Gennifer Flowers and draft-dodging scandals in 1992 gave him doubts about Clinton the man from the beginning. Yet, despite the scandals, Stephanopoulos stayed with Clinton and didn't challenge him. Why not? He says it was because he believed that Clinton's vision for the country outweighed his character flaws. That the good effects of Clinton's policies would outweigh any harm done by his personal faults. Well, it's a rationalization I know all too well. In the midst of Watergate, I overlooked a lot of what I knew to be wrong in the White House because, like Stephanopoulos, I thought that it was vital for America to have my president in the White House to end the Vietnam War, to save us from the Democrats—my how we can justify. Stephanopoulos and I shared another, more insidious characteristic when we worked in the White House: pride. Stephanopoulos is candid about it. He stayed with Clinton because being around Clinton, having the president's ear, made him an important man. I don't think it's coincidence that Stephanopoulos became most depressed about his job when he believed that he had begun losing his influence over the president to someone else—political consultant Dick Morris. Now Stephanopoulos may have tried to convince himself that policy differences with Morris were at the root of the conflict, but I'll wager from my own experience that it was really about prestige and power. I remember how important it was to stay in the inner circle. The biggest source of speculation in the White House, indeed in Washington, is over who is in and who is out. And if you tell the president what you really think, well, you might end up on the outside. So in both our cases, our desire to do what was right was at war with our love of fame and the spotlight. C. S. Lewis is right to call pride the great sin. Stephanopoulos calls his book "a political education." A better description would be a "cautionary tale." And that's what we need to help our friends understand when we hear them talking about this book. It's a "cautionary tale" because it teaches us the wisdom of the Christian teaching on accountability: that we ought to be held accountable to friends, family, pastors, and of course, to God. On our own we could really be very dangerous. There's nothing more deceitful than the human heart, as Jeremiah warned us and as Mr. Stephanopoulos shows us.


Chuck Colson



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