Over the weekend, Republican impeachment manager Jim Rogan was asked whether he thought differences of opinion were possible on the Clinton business. “Yes,” Rogan replied, “reasonable minds can differ on this case as to whether the President should be removed from office. But reasonable minds can only differ if those reasonable minds come to the conclusion that enforcement of the sexual harassment laws in this country [is] less important than the preservation of this man in the office of the presidency. And that is the ultimate question that this body is going to have to answer. Which is more important: the survival of Bill Clinton’s presidency in the face of perjury and obstruction of justice or the protection of the sexual harassment laws?”
Sorry, is this the same James Rogan who gave a competent (if overrated) presentation on the perjury charges a couple of weeks ago? Is this the James Rogan who was such a successful prosecutor of gangbangers before he went into politics? Is he really suggesting that we have the Senate overturn an election–something that has never been done in the 210-year life of the noblest of all constitutions–in order to preserve the two-and-a-half-year-old principle, sacred to perhaps nine angry bluestockings, that male executives should not be allowed to date working-class women? If this is the argument Rogan wants to make, I’m sure the Democrats will buy him the air time. This is something more than stupidity–this is a man who should not be allowed in the same zipcode as a constitutional discussion.
As it happened, last weekend was also the weekend of the Conservative Political Action Conference. Fifteen years ago, this was a breeze of sanity in the fug of Washington, a gathering spot for those courageous enough (and it took courage) to say that 70 percent marginal tax rates hurt business, that welfare wasn’t an ideal lifestyle and that the Soviet Union was an Evil Empire. In the past two or three years, it’s become a nest of kooks, and toward the end of the conference, Lloyd Grove, the Washington Post’s designated fish-in-a-barrel-shooter, wandered over to interview the wildlife. He came up with Andrea Sheldon of the
Traditional Values Coalition. “Traditional Values” seems to mean, basically, all values except sodomy.
“I met Bill Clinton once,” Sheldon warned, “and you can feel him suck you in. It’s a sick, sucking feeling.” What seemed to bug Sheldon most about our chief executive was that “Clinton lives his life entirely compartmentalized–you know, one compartment for cigars, one compartment for having sex with an intern.” Of course, traveling the country pleading for opportunities to discuss buggery for hours on end is not most people’s idea of the Golden Mean, either. But “most people,” it turns out, are precisely the problem.
“The American people,” says Sheldon, “are really messed up.”
Sheldon is out of her mind, of course. On the other hand, look at this poll: ABC asked its viewers whether the President should have mentioned the impeachment proceedings in the course of the State of the Union address he gave last week. Seventeen
percent said he should have, and 79 percent said he was right to leave it out. You can think the President should stay, or you can think he should go. But this is only the second time in American history we’ve traveled this route, and you can’t think the President has nothing important to say about it. When four out of five voters say they don’t want to know what the President
thinks, it issues a fairly loud-and-clear message of: “Please take this democracy business away from me!”
Everyone keeps calling it a masterful State of the Union; if so, it’s masterful in the way a good three-card monte dealer is masterful. The language is a keep-it-movin’ keep-it-movin’ patter to lure people into getting ripped off. Nobody loses. Take for example, the Clinton kiss-up to the blue-hair vote: “We should reduce poverty among elderly women,” he said, “who are nearly twice as likely to be poor as are other seniors.” Other seniors? You mean “men”? Get it? The President was suggesting a program to take money away from old men and selling it as a giveaway–and the old men in the Capitol audience were cheering wildly.
Now consider a challenge that no Baby Boom politician had yet dared to face: how to break it to the public that this numerous generation is going to demand the same unreasonably gargantuan compensation that earlier generations had–even if it means destroying the economy in the process. “I was born in 1946, the first year of the Baby Boom,” Clinton said. “I can tell you that one of the greatest concerns of our generation is our absolute determination not to let our growing old place an intolerable burden on our children and their ability to raise our grandchildren.” In other words: Let’s not leave this decision to our children, because our children might decide not to pay us.
And how about making the whole country fork over for tax credits for “stay at home” parents? It’s a fine idea–but it contradicts the whole family tax policy of the first six years of the Clinton administration. The old policy, as embodied in the Family Medical Leave Act, was to make stay-at-home parents shell out for working women’s babysitters. The new policy is that working moms pay through the nose to bribe housewives, while housewives pay through the nose to bribe working moms. At first, I didn’t get it–but of course such self-canceling paired-policy initiatives are what the New Deal was all about. The President achieves zero in terms of income redistribution or social good–but he employs a lot of unionized bureaucrats and puts everyone on the hook to big government.
The key Clinton rhetorical trick was evident in a piece of nonsense he trundled out to court the African-American vote. “I traveled to Africa,” he said, “where I saw democracy and reform rising, but still held back by violence and disease.” Ah, yes–health is rising, too, though it’s held back by death; and prosperity is rising–though it’s held back by poverty. Africa! Land of Paradoxes!
The key Clinton political principle was evident in his plea, while discussing Medicare, that “No one should have to choose between keeping health care and taking a job.” In fact, no one should have to choose anything. That became crystal clear when the President, in the great Maalox moment of his presidency, gazed up into the balcony and mouthed, “I love you,” to Hillary.
Their Master’s Voice
And all Democrats have now made this devious style of discourse their own. There was a parade of Democratic speakers the entire week, each of them lauded in the press–and not a single one of them made it from one end of the speech to the other without telling a lie. Take David Kendall’s response to Monica Lewinsky’s being called to assist the House Republican managers. He called it a “remarkable occurrence involving the ‘independent’ counsel.” But Kendall, having been involved in the case, knows perfectly well that agreeing to help the Republican managers is the quid that Monica gave for the quo of her immunity.
Or take ex-Sen. George Mitchell: “I think that the evidence is very strong in [Clinton’s] favor that his actions do not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.” This is the statement of a genuinely devious man, even a masterfully devious man. Note how Mitchell conflates two points–the evidence and the impeachability–in order to conceal lies about both. The evidence is actually very strong against President Clinton, even if I happen to agree with Mitchell that the charges are de minimis and don’t warrant an ouster. But that’s a matter of constitutional interpretation, not evidence.
On Tuesday, Charles Ruff did a make-believe cross-examination of Vernon Jordan, in which he disputed virtually every point in the factual basis for the Republicans’ case, then closed by saying he’d proved there was no need to call witnesses to establish the factual basis.
On Wednesday, Cheryl Mills was dazzling. Didn’t make much sense, but she was dazzling. Anyone who begins sentences with “As a lawyer, as an American and as an African-American…” is totally shameless. Anyone who ends, as Mills did, with the implication that, since Clinton has been very good for the Civil Rights movement, he cannot be held accountable for his crimes, is fundamentally authoritarian. And anyone who believes that President Clinton’s cracker forebears were all heroes of the proto-Civil Rights movement is mighty gullible. Like Sean Wilentz, Mills was given to curled-lip condescension toward the doofuses
she was addressing, but she’s considerably more attractive than Mr. Wilentz. You can sure see what whoever sees her sees in her.
On Thursday, Dale Bumpers demanded an end to our “nayrshional nartmare.” About the only person who broke the hushed reverence that followed was Jay Leno, who remarked that “Dale Bumpers” sounded like the name of some stripper Clinton used to consort with. Bumpers began his appalling piece of cracker-barrel pandering by quoting Mencken to the effect that “When somebody says, ‘It’s not about money,’ it’s about money.” His big point, therefore, was that this is all about sex, and the proof is that Republicans say it’s not about sex. This is an argumentative style suitable to one of Bumpers’ low intelligence, and it gets us nowhere. Why not say that Hillary’s protestations of a vast right-wing conspiracy are evidence that there’s no vast right-wing conspiracy?
Dunn: Put a Fork In Her
No one could look at the horrific response the Republicans aired minutes after the State of the Union address and not feel the GOP was doomed. Sending out Steve Largent and Jennifer Dunn was a catastrophe, a reminder that the more they try to look like Democrats, the more Republicans look out of touch. Republican leaders looked at Dunn and thought: “soccer mom,” “woman,” “kinder gentler.” The rest of the country looked at this sour, wizened and angry woman, with the ambition positively incandescing in her eyes, and thought pretty much what most of her Washington colleagues think: “I wouldn’t turn my back on her.”
Dunn didn’t help herself any with the horrific dress she was wearing, which was a shade somewhere between Ukrainian-national-hockey-team blue, Fisher-Price block-set blue and tv-test-pattern blue. (Perhaps we should just defer to Isaac Mizrahi
here, who has called it “lady-politician blue.”) There was only one thing she could have done to make the situation worse, and she did it: She opened her mouth.
“No matter what the outcome of the President’s situation,” she began, “life in America will go on.” It will? What the hell are we doing in Impeachmentland, then? “Our country is not in crisis,” she said. “There are no tanks in the streets.” That sure got my attention, and I imagine it set viewers across the country wondering if there was some Republican plan for putting tanks in the streets. Then she identified her credentials for being sent up to woo Democratic women. “I’m a single mother,” she chirped. Now, look–Democrats own single mothers because they’re more generous with that great single-mother program, AFDC. But they don’t go out and brag, “Hi!… I’m an ice-cold, mean old rich lady who dumped her first husband just about the time her political career took off…” Then Dunn went into the inheritance tax–which she called the “death tax”–and what to do if your parents are dead. In case the atmosphere wasn’t fully created, she told a few anecdotes about a couple she knew who kept receiving inquiries from the IRS about whether the husband was dead. Yikes. She punctuated all these points with a violent,
stiff chopping motion of the right hand that looked like a Nazi salute. So the message that emerged was: tanks in the streets…Republicans…death…divorce…Republicans… dead parents…Republicans…dead husbands… epublicans… Sieg heil!
All of this was made the more exciting, Dunn said, now that she “felt the swirl of history” around her. I’ll bet she did. But as Harry Truman used to say, if you can’t stand the swirl of history, get out of the toilet bowl.