Presidential History

Facts of Life

What Bill Clinton doesn't know about sex

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Will Bill Clinton redeem himself? If anyone can, it is this president. No political figure has reinvented himself with such regularity or bounced back from more profound depths. He is the candidate of the perpetual second chance.

True, this would be the mother of all comebacks. In the waning days of a lame-duck term, undone by his own undisciplined appetites and relentless mendacity, Clinton is trusted less–well, less than even he has ever been trusted. Yet to rescue himself from historical disgrace, the poor man must attempt what he has never been trusted to do: He must lead America. That is something new for a president who has instead been led by public opinion surveys–surveys where he has found the teeny, mosquito-like ideas that have buzzed from his White House in swarms to nip unsuspecting Americans.

School uniforms. More police. Patching leaky school roofs. Bill Clinton has found small ideas just his size. When this smallest of presidents told us "the era of big government is over," he was not abandoning statism. He was only declaring his own impotence. Clinton was acknowledging that, try as he might, he just wasn't powerful enough to impose a really big government power grab, such as nationalized health care, on the country.

So our micro-president did the next best thing: He kicked big government over, shattering it into thousands of tiny shards. Watch your step; Clinton's micro-government proposals are everywhere. Who but Bill Clinton could simultaneously make government smaller and give us a lot more of it?

Even as we speak, the Clinton-Gore team is on its way to a neighborhood near you, with urban planners and traffic management bureaucrats. They have a plan for your car. A plan for your house. A plan to fix your suburbs. They are guaranteeing you more time with your children. A grassy green park to go to. Protection from suburban sprawl.

And now Clinton has found new accomplices to help him expand the power of the state. Driven to get something, anything, done, Clinton is moving to get things done with the Republican Congress. Embarrassed by the impeachment imbroglio, they also are determined to show voters what they can accomplish.

This is a time for all good Americans to tremble. How can we gain the president's attention? Perhaps we should present our case against ever-expanding government in a way Clinton and his advisers can understand.

Let's talk about sex.

Hell of a mess, isn't it? Risky and inefficient. The eternal conflict between the sexes. The time wasted on courtship. So many failed relationships and so few successful ones. Why does Mother Nature spend such energy on the mating dance–the gravitational tug of brightly colored feathers or the sequined evening gown?

Half the genes here, half the genes there. Finding a way to get all those little genes together. Is it all necessary? Why are there two sexes? Wouldn't it be more efficient if, like the amoeba, we had but one? Perhaps a "single-payer" sexual system would save us a lot of trouble. Surely someone in government could contrive a less troublesome method of reproduction, designing the thing from scratch.

Biologists have great jobs: They get to think about sex and explore such questions. Their answers, conveniently, boil down to this: Inefficiency and failure have advantages. For all the uncertainty of sex, there are vast benefits in its tumult.

Through the rich differences between male and female, the reshuffling and recombining of genes, life finds its way forward. Male meets female, they shuffle the genetic cards, and bang! Amphibians walk out of the water. Monkeys develop opposable thumbs. Man learns to walk upright. Shuffle the cards again, and sex finds pathways around diseases and mutating viruses that would otherwise extinguish us. Another genetic shuffle, and man learns to use tools: a piece of flint, the spear, the credit card.

The chaotic jumble of sex is nature's creative secret. It allows change, adaptability, and advancement. The cost, however, is astounding. For every evolutionary change or mutation that succeeds, there are hundreds, perhaps millions, of dead-end journeys. One eagle survives a thousand dodo birds.

But the alternative to nature's undisciplined creativity is rigidity, paralysis, and decline. Asexual reproduction is short and stagnant stream that leads no farther than the amoeba. It is a shame no one ever took Bill Clinton out behind the barn for the one important lesson about sex he has missed–and explained how it applies not just to the birds and bees but to society and economics as well.

Nature advances through the wasteful confusion of sex. Economies advance through the noisy jumble of the free market. Science advances not just through reason but in random leaps of inspiration. Some species and businesses and scientific experiments fail. Others march forward. Life advances not despite chaos but because of it. There is no chance for success, it seems, where there is no risk of failure.

When government tries to rig the game in advance, Mr. Clinton, it interferes with this process of trial and error. Statism is the enemy of progress. It is the adversary of all growth except its own. Government programs are poured cement; once they flow into an economy and set, the man-made stone hardens forever.

The cost? It is easy to see what taxes take out of people's pockets. But the growing state imposes a larger penalty, invisible and silent: It taxes our future. Like the farm boy who has never seen the ocean, we do not miss the businesses never started for lack of capital, the jobs never created because of government regulation, the family that could have made it with less economic pressure. Yet we are all poorer in their absence. Big government taxes what we could be, much more than what we have.

A truly progressive government must leave its citizen-explorers alone on life's perilous but promising journey, free to fail or succeed. Freedom, Mr. Clinton, is as perilous and productive as sex.

Alejandro Castellanos (alexc@natmedia.com) is a Republican media consultant.