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

That’s why Republicans’ blocking of a censure substitute, which would have allowed Democratic senators to vilify the First Cad before sending him on his gallivanting way, is the strategic masterstroke of recent weeks. It shows the GOP is not nearly as tactically dimwitted as we’ve heretofore thought. And it locks Senate Dems into the foolhardy course of defending the President on the grounds of his innocence, which cannot be done. Yes, the independent counsel was overzealous. 


Yes, it’s a shame all this started with an office affair that should be none of anyone’s business. But there are laws against sexual harassment and perjury and obstruction of justice, and the President–clear as day–broke ’em. As long as they take it upon themselves to argue he didn’t, the Democrats are going to have to reenact Clinton’s logical acrobatics daily. This is a recipe for highly unpredictable hearings.

When House impeachment manager Henry Hyde mentioned last Wednesday that he’d like to see President Clinton take the stand, Democrats treated it as a violation-in-spirit of the bipartisan Senate agreement not to discuss calling witnesses until both sides had made their opening arguments. So Democrats caucused Thursday morning, and all of them emerged with exactly the same “spontaneous” reaction. Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said: “I’m very disappointed and somewhat surprised… It certainly violates the spirit of the agreement we all just agreed to last week.” Pat Leahy of Vermont said: “I was really disappointed, actually saddened to see it… For the Republicans to allow it to suddenly break from that bipartisan effort and become a partisan thing, is very, very disappointing.” Barbara Boxer of California said: “There’s great sadness in the Democratic Caucus today. We were so happy that we had reached that bipartisan consensus.” Clearly the senators were all given their partisan marching orders, which were to (1) angrily announce that their anger was actually “sadness” or “disappointment,” not anger, and (2) collude, for the good of the party, in accusing the other party of partisan collusion. In the eyes of the nation, they looked like a bunch of devious turds.

But really, what’s the alternative? There are two. First, the Fantasy Camp strategy, which is being followed by Dick Durbin, the loathsome Illinois senator. Having talked himself into the delusion that Clinton can somehow prove himself innocent of the perjury and obstruction charges, Durbin met Hyde’s suggestion by cheerily saying he’s “open to the argument” that the President should testify. Yeah, sure. So convoluted is the Clinton story by now that there are certain questions to which the President can give no possible answer that will not offer fresh evidence of perjury. That way lies conviction.

Second is the Head-in-the-Sand strategy. It’s a popular one. Even the astute pollster Pat Caddell, who’s been quicker than most Democrats to admit the President lied, says: “I’m not sure that this is impeachable…” A Republican memo correctly points out that in the three trials where the question has come up the Senate has ruled perjury a high crime and misdemeanor. But let’s cut the baloney and get one thing straight: Whether you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing, these are impeachable offenses. We know that because the President has been impeached.

Clinton himself is following the Head-in-the-Sand defense. “The articles of impeachment that have been exhibited to the Senate,” ran a passage in the White House defense that could have been written by Antonin Scalia, “fall far short of what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they placed in the hands of Congress the power to impeach and remove a President from office.” Oh, yes! Bill Clinton, Originalist. Then, taking press questions on the eve of the Republican presentation, he scolded a reporter, saying, “What you should be asking yourself is, Why did nearly 900 constitutional experts say that they strongly felt that this matter was not the subject of impeachment?” This, the President ought to know, is yesterday’s question. It’s like telling Isaac Newton he should ask himself why 900 of the king’s scientists don’t believe in the theory of gravity. We ask the questions here, and the President’s effrontery in telling the press what they should be looking into in the first place is an indication he has more in common with the Ceausescu family than his keen enthusiasm for the charms of youth.

Advocates of the Head-in-the-Sand strategy think that buoyant public approval ratings give the President a large margin of error. Not necessarily. Republicans are suffering at the polls because they have done one truly horrible thing. They have taken two corrupting Democratic innovations–sexual harassment law and the independent counsel–and poured that poisonous mix into the stream of presidential politics, with lamentable and destabilizing results. But that’s done; it’s hard to see how convicting Clinton by such methods will make them any less popular than failing to convict him. And how durable is Clinton’s support, anyway? Last week, an interesting Harris poll posed the approve/disapprove question in a novel way, asking citizens, “Are you proud Clinton is president?” Thirty-six percent said proud, 43 percent ashamed, 18 percent neither.

Our poll of the week, though, is one in which CBS tried to gauge the popularity of Dennis Hastert. It found that four percent viewed him favorably and three percent unfavorably, while the remaining 90-some-odd percent… I don’t know, they think he’s in the running for the Heisman or something.

Nursultan of Swing

A country in which only seven percent of the people know who the speaker of the House is a country on the way to nazarbaevismo. I’m referring, of course, to the great Nursultan Nazarbaev, president of the heavily nuclear-armed ex-Soviet “republic” of Kazakhstan. Nursultan was recently “reelected,” amid accusations of fraud, with 82 percent of the vote. The election was seen as a referendum on his first 10 years in power, which have been marked by an attempt to create some sort of regional heredity dynasty, the linchpin of which is his daughter’s marriage to the son of the elected president of Kyrgyzstan, Askar Akayev, last summer. When questioned about the recent unbelievable election results, Nazarbaev said, “Do you remember the times when turnout was 99.9 percent and the votes came in at 99.9 percent in favor? Well you could say that we have allowed democracy to progress by 20 percent.”

Culture Club

Dan Quayle went on Chris Matthews’ Hardball last week to weave his future electoral fortunes into the impeachment proceeding: “The 60s generation,” he said, “our generation, the me generation, the generation of greed, do-your-own-thing, you know, we’ve paid a price for that. That culture, as we look back on it, was not good for America.” I like that attempt to recast the collapse of civic virtue as caused by a “generation of greed” (i.e., by Clinton) rather than a “decade of greed” (i.e., by Reagan). A good trope.

But what’s this about “as we look back on it”? That culture is our culture–right now, as we speak, ahorita. I don’t need to go into another rant about Larry Flynt’s Clinton-condoned peeping-tommery, other than to say that it proves what a barren exercise the hunt for hypocrisy is. Where hypocrisy is the only sin, nihilism is the only ethic. But we certainly can take out of
Bob Barr’s career some understanding of how even the most rural wingnuts have been swept up in the sexual revolution. Barr may be conservative, sure, but he’s conservative in a sexual-revolutionary regime. He has used pretty much every implement in the post-Woodstock tool kit: adultery, divorce, abortion. Similarly striking was the rhetoric of J.C. Watts during a speech last week in which he rightly called on the President to denounce his ally Flynt. Watts admitted (not for the first time) that he’d fathered a child at 19, and said of his preacher uncle, who adopted the child, “He was the gentleman, when I made a bad choice in my life in 1976, who stepped in because we did not want my child to be adopted out of our family.”

Sorry, what was that about a “bad choice”? Isn’t that what Kate Michelman’s supposed to say? Some “culture war”! I know I’ve said otherwise, but it begins to look as if this country isn’t divided into pro-60s and anti-60s people after all. It’s divided into happy 60s people and 60s people who are maddern hell.