In a press briefing last Thursday that must have had Democrats all over Washington yelling, "Shaddap! Shaddap!" presidential press spokesman Joe Lockhart wound up doing all sorts of damage. Lockhart had been protesting that, if Republicans persisted in their partisanship, the White House might demand to call more witnesses. "And we're not bluffing!" One thing about an impeachment, obviously, is that the Senate, not the White House, makes up the rules. And one thing about this impeachment is that the White House is the side that does not want witnesses. So badly do the Dems not want witnesses that they succeeded in ensuring that the testimony of the three they got stuck with will be closed to the public (again, barring any later video release). This, after demanding that the jury deliberations?traditionally the most private part of any trial?be open to the public. So Lockhart was threatening to bend the rules in order to harm his own side.
The second Republican win came with the party's growing unity around a "finding-of-fact" strategy, which would allow two votes, one on the President's guilt or innocence, one on whether to throw him out of office. This was the root of all the confusion. The official Democratic position, enunciated by New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, was that "you can't separate the two." Why were Democrats so exercised about a two-stage vote, when this was what they'd been suggesting?in the form of censure?all along? What was the difference? It now appears the difference was that censure was meant only to shut down the process altogether. All along, it had been half of what Democrats claimed it was: a vote on finding of fact that would make impossible a vote to remove.
This means that either (1) earlier in the process, the White House worried more than we realized that they could lose a vote to remove; or (2) as we speak, Senate Democrats are more reluctant than we realize to cast a "let him off" vote.
Here, Lockhart wound up doing even more damage. "The Constitution doesn't allow it," he said of the finding-of-fact vote.
An astute journalist asked: "But Joe, aren't they in a way just listening to what the White House argument has been?"
Whenever he ran into trouble, Lockhart retreated to Senate arcana and changed his tack, saying that a finding-of-fact vote would be "subject to the rule of the chair."
When journalists noted that neither the rule of the chair nor anything else the Senate does is any of the White House's business, Lockhart lost it, and let the cat out of the bag. "What would happen," he asked, "if they changed their mind between the votes and passed a new procedure through on a 55-45 that said, 'If you vote to convict, you do remove'? What about that?"
Right Said Fed The President, meanwhile, was traveling around the country peddling the policy initiatives in his State of the Union address. As he did, Alan Greenspan was traveling around trying to undo them. In particular, the Fed chair sought to save Social Security from the President's efforts to "save" it. Greenspan noted that in order to fully fund the program, we'd have to raise taxes 4 to 5 percent of total payroll. Other than that, our only immediate option is to increase immigration. (Although I don't recall the President mentioning that in his State of the Union.)
What really came in for Greenspan's wrath were Clinton's "U.S.A. Accounts," under which he hopes to "privatize" part of the Social Security system. This was supposed to be boob-bait for free-marketeers, and Republicans have swallowed it hook, line and sinker. Of course, these aren't really "accounts" and there's nothing really "private" about them: The government picks a few lucky companies and consortia and buys their stock with hundreds of billions in taxpayer funds, instead of sticking that money into T-bills. If you know Clinton, you know where this is heading.
Greenspan, who probably felt the thumbscrews before he was re-upped as Fed chair, said: "Even with Herculean efforts, I doubt if it would be feasible to insulate, over the long run, the trust funds from political pressures, direct and indirect, to allocate capital to less than its most productive use." Translate this hedging out of Fed-chairmanese, and what you get is this: "Investing in Social Security" is going to mean investing in the companies that have ladled the most dough into the President's campaign coffers.
Beautiful Southland Republicans are beginning to realize they have a potentially gargantuan problem in the Louisiana 1st. That's ex-Speaker-to-be Bob Livingston's district, which he's promised to vacate under pressure from Hustler magazine. Livingston announced last week that he'd step down on Feb. 28. That means Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster will have to call a primary election for sometime in March.
The problem is, such quickie elections tend to put a premium on name recognition. That's what Newt Gingrich and other Republicans warned against when Livingston was mulling over retirement a couple of years ago. Because the announced Republican with the most name recognition is ex-Klansman David Duke. Duke is bound to be much weaker in this economy than he was in his governor's and senator's runs in the early 90s. But the remaining Republicans running are pretty nondescript. David Treen, it's true, is an ex-governor who has Livingston's endorsement, but he hasn't finished a run for anything since the early 1980s. (He has a habit of announcing, then dropping out.) Then there's Rob Couhig, a local mogul who owns the New Orleans Zephyrs. Couhig has run for Congress once before, in 1980, when he mustered only a third of the vote in a never-close race against Cokie Roberts' mother (and Vatican ambassador) Lindy Boggs. Rounding out the Republican field is an ophthalmologist called (no foolin') Monica Monica.
Then, in North Carolina last week, Lieut. Gov. Dennis Wicker sang for the campaign-finance supper slopped out by the gambling magnates who threaten to take over all the Southern Atlantic states. "I know this may offend certain powerful groups," Wicker said, "but I believe we have to put our children's future first. Let's make a maximum investment in education without raising taxes." Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! Wicker is obviously a prime beneficiary of undereducation in the Tarheel state. To paraphrase Sy Sims, an illiterate voter is his best constituent. Educated voters, after all, would ask Wicker to name the "powerful groups" he claimed to be offending, and would point out the ones he's sucking up to. Educated voters also understand that a lottery is a tax?it's a stupidity tax. Which only makes Wicker's ingratitude the worse.
The only ray of sunlight in all of Old Dixie came from Virginia, where Ken Starr's wife Alice spoke to a Ladies Home Journal interviewer who asked her what she thought of Hillary Rodham Clinton. "I admire all her hairdos," said the noble Alice. A sentiment tantamount to: I admire all her chins.
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