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During his first campaign for the presidency in 1992, Bill Clinton was dogged by what came to be called the "character issue." Critics charged that Clinton's character was flawed in ways that made him unfit to be president. They said that he had dodged the draft during the Vietnam War, showing personal cowardice and an unwillingness to put the interests of the country before his own. They accused him of marital infidelity, claiming that he had been as disloyal to his wife as to the nation. Marriage is an institution of love that demands a renunciation of the pleasures of free sexuality, and fidelity to a single person. Clinton's attackers claimed that he lacked the will to forego these pleasures, to make the sacrifice that marriage demands, preferring his own gratification to the welfare of the woman to whom he had pledged his love. So too, they said, he had been unwilling to sacrifice his own safety and well-being for the good of the country in a time of war, another form of infidelity.

His critics acknowledged that Clinton had many ideas, that he was (as some described him) a "policy wonk" with a vast repertoire of programs and plans. But they insisted that he lacked the habits of self-sacrificing love on which the people's trust might securely be based. What emerged from Bill Clinton's life, they said, was the portrait of a man driven by self-centered desires, a man who would never make a sacrifice for anything or anyone other than himself, and whose declared commitments—to people and programs and ultimately to the country itself—therefore could not be trusted.

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