Maybe that’s the whole reason each new year sees these silly color inserts and tv specials and magazine double issues with mendacious titles like “1998: The Year That Changed Us All.” Maybe they perform the public service of killing news stories. Last year people across the country looked up from the seventh Sunday newspaper feature they’d read called “El Nino: The Storms That Changed Us All In 1997″ and said, “I’m never going to read another story about El Nino as long as I live.” The year before people clicked off shows called “Newt: The Man Who Changed Us All In 1996,” saying, “I’m going to throttle the next person who even mentions Newt Gingrich’s name.” In like fashion, this New Year will be remembered as the moment when the Monica scandal dropped exhausted to the ground under the weight of national boredom.
Trent Lott seems to think it will. He’s reading the polls, and knows that Monica is not exactly a winning issue in the What-the-Hell-Are-The-Republicans-Doing Belt that stretches across the Great Lakes into New England (an area known in less politically correct times as “the civilized parts of the country”). Lott also figures that three of his Midwestern senators (Abraham, Ashcroft and Grams) and two of his Northeastern ones (Jeffords and Santorum) will be vulnerable to a challenge in the fall unless he can quickly shift his party’s focus away from the First Groin. But that’s easier said than done. Two weeks ago, we discussed a problem the Senate would have in closing the Monica business out. If the Senate treats its responsibility as merely judging the case on the evidence, then there’s no two ways about it–Clinton is guilty, guilty, guilty. So Lott, relying on ample constitutional precedent that the Senate can create any rules it wants for an impeachment proceeding, is struggling to keep the evidence at bay. The latest plan calls for a two-part procedure. Part One: a quick vote, after perfunctory opening arguments, on whether Clinton’s misbehavior should result in his ouster. Part Two: If yes, a trial with full evidence-gathering and witness-calling.
Attentive students of Washington will realize that the procedure is a sham, with Part One designed to make arriving at Part Two impossible. They should also be coming to realize that all this high-minded talk about how the Senate will reject a Clinton trial because it is the more “deliberative” body is baloney. No–the Senate will reject a Clinton trial because (a) it is more susceptible to such parliamentary legerdemain as the filibuster and the ad hoc rules change, and (b) it is a more elite group of legislators, with fewer Bible-waving ruralists in it.
And that’s the way it’s meant to be. We’re supposed to have an Upper House. Those in the GOP who are upset about this arrangement provide yet more evidence that Republicans are revolutionaries, are radicals–but not in the way they claimed they were in 1994. And certainly not in the way Democrats have claimed they were every time they professed to “defend” us from them. Rather it’s that Republicans are becoming the party of the lower orders–and that’s why, like the lower orders in all times and places, they think they have a stake in institutional wreckage. The arguments of the GOP are coming more and more to resemble those Howard Zinn used to make in the 1960s: that you don’t have “real democracy” unless you have rule
The corollary is that Democrats are the party of the upper classes. Which in fact they are. The only thing that blinds us to this is that we’ve tended to look at class issues through a racial lens. And despite real progress, urban blacks remain on the lowest rung of the ladder. If we’re the party of the upper class, Democrats ask, then how come blacks vote for us? This is an easy question posing as a hard question. The lesson of this century (and probably of all centuries, once we remove Marxist misreadings from the picture) is that the class least worthy of being entrusted with the fortunes of the lowest-on-the-totem-pole is the second-lowest-on-the-totem-pole.
Here’s another class giveaway. Let’s do an experiment–like the ones watchdog groups do when they send a man and a woman “identical in every respect” to apply for the same job at a big corporation. If you were to call up The Nation or The Progressive or In These Times or the American Prospect and tell them you’re a right-winger of the Euro-royalist, elitist stripe (like, say, the editor of “Top Drawer”) and that you’re interested in writing for them, what would they say? They’d tell you that, while the offer was an unusual one, they were intrigued. But if you were to call up the same magazine and tell them that you’re a right-winger of the American lower-middle-class variety (like, say, Grover Norquist or some other Gingrich adviser), they’d tell you to take a hike. Class solidarity trumps ideology.
This is, of course, all hypothetical. For real-life confirmation that Democrats are the party of the fatcats and Republicans of the striving have-nots, we need to look at the fledgling Gore 2000 campaign. The big news of last week was that, in the very late hours of New Year’s Eve, Al Gore filed papers with the FEC to declare his candidacy for presidency. The surprise is not that the declaration came so early but that it came so late. According to a finance plan drawn up by Gore’s Machiavellian adviser Peter Knight, the Wooden One is going to have to raise $25 million, or $60,000 a day. He can do it; he did, after all, appear at 123 fundraisers last year. But he’ll need help. That’s why he hired Tina Flournoy as his finance director. What organization does she come from? The AFL-CIO? AFSCME? The NAACP? Ah, no… In fact, Flournoy worked for years at Philip Morris.
Hey! She was probably working there when Al Gore’s sister died of lung cancer! Surely no one forgets the speech at the 1996 Democratic National Convention when Gore recalled a solemn vow he made at his sister’s deathbed: “Until I draw my last breath, I will pour my heart and soul into protecting our young people from the dangers of smoking…” Part of this “protection” effort, apparently, consists of luring executives away from the big tobacco companies with lucrative campaign jobs. When, three years ago, reporters asked him why he had continued to take tobacco money long after his sister’s death, Gore said, “I felt the numbness that prevented me from integrating into all aspects of my life the implications of what that tragedy really meant.” So he’s not hypocritical–he’s numb.
Gore’s bona fides as an on-the-ball, with-it Democrat come from his championing of the Internet, which he still calls, somewhat quaintly, the “information superhighway.” He’s done all right thus far being “pro-Internet.” But presidential politics isn’t about whether you’re “pro-” or “anti-” any given industry; it’s about who gets what out of that industry. Now, one of the most popular measures in American politics is a “pro-family tax cut”: giving parents $500 for every child as a means of reducing the squeeze on families. Given that this measure would cost $30
billion a year, one way to pay for it might be to take it out of the wallets of those who’ve made so much money building the “information superhighway.” In fact, you could take it out of Bill Gates’ pocket and still leave him tens of billions to spare. This won’t happen, for various reasons. But if whether or not to bleed Bill Gates to “help America’s working families” is the issue that separates Al Gore Democrats from the Christian Republicans who are calling for Bill Clinton’s head, who do you think is going to come down on the side of capital and who on the side of labor?