Written by Christopher Caldwell on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.

But really, how can you root for the Democrats when it’s they who inflicted these things on us? Would anyone who listened to White House spokesman Joe Lockhart for more than five minutes be sincerely sorry to have the President ridden out of town on a rail? Lockhart attacked the House impeachment managers last week for seeking to influence the senators holding the trial. “This is a process for the Senate to work out,” says Lockhart. “We don’t believe it’s been particularly appropriate the way the House has tried to interject themselves into the process.” Okay, Joe–I’m with you on principle. But, you know, if there’s any bigger affront to the principle of separation of powers than the House trying to influence the Senate, it’s the presidency trying to influence the Senate.

There is, in fact, no principle here: The President and his defenders are just resorting to any-trick-in-the-book hardball, and calling it principle. Democrats backing Clinton, for instance, have been planning a “conflict of interest” motion against the Hutchinson brothers of Arkansas, since Tim in the Senate will hear arguments from Asa in the House. What kind of crap is that? What about California Senator Barbara Boxer, the President’s sister-in-law? Should she be excluded, too?

Then certain Senate Democrats objected to the devious way Republicans have used innuendo and uncorroborated testimony about the five “Jane Does” who claim variously to have been assaulted, harassed and intimidated by the President. Republican leaders, Dems complained, had brought their wavering moderates into the Ford Office Building in the waning days of the House proceeding and shown them a whole dossier-ful of material that was not included in the Starr report. The Democrats are right: These decisions should be made on a publicly available body of evidence. It’s too bad those same Dems don’t want to admit the now-publicly available indictment of Julie Hiatt Steele, the friend of Kathleen Willey who is accused of making false statements to the independent counsel–apparently at the request of Democratic operatives. And it’s too bad the Democrats weren’t so preoccupied with rules of evidence during the Clarence Thomas trial. Back then, their most serious charge against Orrin Hatch and (their own) Joe Biden was that the Senate Judiciary Committee had failed to rely on unsubstantiated ax-grinding from Angela Wright, Susan Hoerchner and a number of Anita Hill’s other crank friends.

A large reason why such a tort as minor as an Oval Office hummer has led us all the way to the brink of impeachment is that the President’s people are not trustworthy enough to negotiate with. I could make–and have frequently made–a principled defense of the President against the depredations of the independent counsel. But when you realize you’re defending people with no principles, it begins to wear you out.

Especially since the White House is on a sexual witch-hunt of its own. All week the President’s people were trying to keep stories of Bobbie Ann Williams, the Arkansas prostitute who claims to have had the President’s love child, out of the dailies. And while there was some leakage–on Leno, in the Drudge Report, and the Washington Times–they mostly succeeded. (It’s a good illustration of the symmetrical corruption in town: While I haven’t talked to a single Republican who discounts the possibility that the story is a kook fabrication, I haven’t talked to a single Democrat who dismisses the possibility that it’s true.) Meanwhile, the same Clintonites were doing their best to filter their own sexual investigations, carried out by James Carville’s friend Larry Flynt, into the mainstream papers. Tom Fielder of the Miami Herald was the only editor to remark on the scurrility of the whole enterprise. For this inquisition could be halted in seconds, of course, if the President were willing to ask publicly that such blackguardry not be carried out in his name. But that’s not what the President wants. In fact, Lockhart came out last week and said “all bets are off.” Karen Tumulty of Time took that to mean the White House was now actively pursuing a blackmail strategy. She’s probably right.

The day after Clinton got impeached in December I was sitting in a mall in Bethesda when I saw Lockhart come down the escalator with some shopping bags. This seemed rather noteworthy, less than 24 hours after the big day of his life, and I mentioned it at a Christmas party that afternoon.

“I saw Joe Lockhart in Chevy Chase today,” I said. “He seemed to be catching up on his shopping.”

“Yeah, what was he shopping for?” one of my friends said. “A soul?”

Pick Up Your Meth

Al Gore’s position improves palpably as the days pass. Whatever happens with the Senate trial, Democrats continue to treat it as a Republican suicide pact. So Dick Gephardt now feels virtually certain he’ll be speaker in two years, and has quietly packed up his presidential campaign. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Gore’s most credible challenger, continues to do nothing, an indication he won’t run. So now Gore is beginning to use the propaganda potential of the vice presidency, and he looks almost unbeatable.

One of the early Clinton administration moves that I applauded was his decision, in the face of claims he was “soft on drugs,” to defund the War on Privacy–excuse me, the War on Drugs–which at the time was costing $28 billion a year. (Yes, I, too, used to think that figure was a misprint.) But as it turned out, the enforcement-and-interdiction side of the War on Drugs was about the only thing the President didn’t approve of. The ceremonial side turned out to be right up his alley. He appointed the lazy satrap Lee “Outta Town” Brown (now mayor of Houston), provided him with a huge office budget and a palace guard and turned the office into a clearinghouse for political propaganda, which it remains today.

Last Friday, Gore and Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey scheduled a talk on “methamphetamine issues” in Des Moines, IA. It’s not the first time Gore has traveled to the Hawkeye State to speak on pressing meth matters, and I’m sure this has nothing to do with the importance of the Iowa caucuses and everything to do with the urgency of the drug plague in the farmlands. It reminds me, for some reason, that when I was living in Burlington, VT, in the mid-1980s, with Bernie Sanders (now Vermont’s socialist congressman) as mayor, the town declared itself a “sanctuary” for refugees from the Central American wars. Any bedraggled Guatemalan Indians or Salvadoran coffee pickers who straggled over the Canadian border were welcomed into municipal offices.

And they were pretty adamant about that!

Dole-Time Religion
Elizabeth Dole entered the presidential fray last week, quitting her job at American Red Cross. She made several appearances on television, including one with Wolf Blitzer, on which she begged off a question on abortion by noting that–since she’s going to be head of the “apolitical” Red Cross for another eight hours or so–she “would not be able to talk about political issues.” Of course, Liddy’s Red Cross activities didn’t keep her from taking the podium for that awful, grin-like-a-dashboard-doggy Oprah session at the Republican National Convention in 1996.

As she smiled her way through all these paid political ads masquerading as news features, no one saw fit to mention Liddy’s reputation around town as one of the most high-strung, anal and berserk-with-ambition bosses in the capital. Particularly quaint was a little write-up the BBC gave her on its online service. Her presidential campaign, the Beeb cheerily opined, “certainly will be more rough-and-tumble than her last winning campaign, for May Queen at Duke in 1958.” Which shows how little the Brits know about American womanhood. It’s hard to think of a more surefire recipe for ruthlessness than having several dozen daddy’s girls at an elite Southern university battle it out over who gets declared prettiest.

Lacking any understanding of the gender gap, Republicans are looking for a deus ex machina to close it. No one with an IQ over freezing thinks Liddy Dole can get elected president, but if she makes a strong enough showing in the primaries, Republicans are bound to worry that they’ll lose a lot of women votes if they don’t at least pick her as veep. Still, the very Republicans who know her best can’t seem to manage a single good word for her. Several senators prattled on about what a great “First Man” the Viagra-enhanced Bob Dole would make. (Oh, sure. Here’s a guy who two years ago ran as the Last Strong Silent Type, and today is walking around with a face winched up so tight by cosmetic surgery that he looks like some stage Mongol from a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta.) Newt Gingrich was scarcely better, managing only to praise Liddy as the “first woman, I think, to have served two presidents.” And anyway, I don’t know about that. Weren’t there a couple who served JFK and Walter Ulbricht?