The Stupes

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The Stupes Overthe weekend, Republican impeachment manager Jim Rogan was asked whetherhe thought differences of opinion were possible on the Clinton business. "Yes,"Rogan replied, "reasonable minds can differ on this case as to whetherthe President should be removed from office. But reasonable minds can only differif those reasonable minds come to the conclusion that enforcement of the sexualharassment laws in this country [is] less important than the preservation ofthis man in the office of the presidency. And that is the ultimate questionthat this body is going to have to answer. Which is more important: the survivalof Bill Clinton's presidency in the face of perjury and obstruction ofjustice or the protection of the sexual harassment laws?"
Sorry, isthis the same James Rogan who gave a competent (if overrated) presentation onthe perjury charges a couple of weeks ago? Is this the James Rogan who was sucha successful prosecutor of gangbangers before he went into politics? Is he reallysuggesting that we have the Senate overturn an election?something thathas never been done in the 210-year life of the noblest of all constitutions?inorder to preserve the two-and-a-half-year-old principle, sacred to perhaps nineangry bluestockings, that male executives should not be allowed to date working-classwomen? If this is the argument Rogan wants to make, I'm sure the Democratswill buy him the air time. This is something more than stupidity?this isa 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 gatheringspot for those courageous enough (and it took courage) to say that 70 percentmarginal tax rates hurt business, that welfare wasn't an ideal lifestyleand 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, LloydGrove, 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.

"Imet Bill Clinton once," Sheldon warned, "and you can feel him suckyou in. It's a sick, sucking feeling." What seemed to bug Sheldonmost about our chief executive was that "Clinton lives his life entirelycompartmentalized?you know, one compartment for cigars, one compartmentfor having sex with an intern." Of course, traveling the country pleadingfor opportunities to discuss buggery for hours on end is not most people'sidea of the Golden Mean, either. But "most people," it turns out,are precisely the problem.

"TheAmerican people," says Sheldon, "are really messed up."
The Deeves Sheldonis out of her mind, of course. On the other hand, look at this poll: ABC askedits viewers whether the President should have mentioned the impeachment proceedingsin 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. Butthis 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 thisdemocracy business away from me!"
Everyonekeeps calling it a masterful State of the Union; if so, it's masterfulin 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 shouldreduce poverty among elderly women," he said, "who are nearly twiceas likely to be poor as are other seniors." Other seniors? You mean"men"? Get it? The President was suggesting a program to take moneyaway from old men and selling it as a giveaway?and the old men in theCapitol audience were cheering wildly.

Now considera challenge that no Baby Boom politician had yet dared to face: how to breakit to the public that this numerous generation is going to demand the same unreasonablygargantuan compensation that earlier generations had?even if it means destroyingthe economy in the process. "I was born in 1946, the first year of theBaby Boom," Clinton said. "I can tell you that one of the greatestconcerns of our generation is our absolute determination not to let our growingold place an intolerable burden on our children and their ability to raise ourgrandchildren." In other words: Let's not leave this decision to ourchildren, because our children might decide not to pay us.

And howabout 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 taxpolicy 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 parentsshell out for working women's babysitters. The new policy is that workingmoms pay through the nose to bribe housewives, while housewives pay throughthe nose to bribe working moms. At first, I didn't get it?but of coursesuch self-canceling paired-policy initiatives are what the New Deal was allabout. The President achieves zero in terms of income redistribution or socialgood?but he employs a lot of unionized bureaucrats and puts everyone onthe hook to big government.

The keyClinton rhetorical trick was evident in a piece of nonsense he trundled outto court the African-American vote. "I traveled to Africa," he said,"where I saw democracy and reform rising, but still held back by violenceand disease." Ah, yes?health is rising, too, though it's heldback by death; and prosperity is rising?though it's held back by poverty.Africa! Land of Paradoxes!

The keyClinton political principle was evident in his plea, while discussing Medicare,that "No one should have to choose between keeping health care and takinga job." In fact, no one should have to choose anything. That became crystalclear when the President, in the great Maalox moment of his presidency, gazedup into the balcony and mouthed, "I love you," to Hillary.
Their Master's Voice Andall Democrats have now made this devious style of discourse their own. Therewas a parade of Democratic speakers the entire week, each of them lauded inthe press?and not a single one of them made it from one end of the speechto the other without telling a lie. Take David Kendall's response to MonicaLewinsky's being called to assist the House Republican managers. He calledit a "remarkable occurrence involving the 'independent' counsel."But Kendall, having been involved in the case, knows perfectly well that agreeingto help the Republican managers is the quid that Monica gave for the quo ofher immunity.
Or takeex-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 deviousman. Note how Mitchell conflates two points?the evidence and the impeachability?inorder to conceal lies about both. The evidence is actually very strong againstPresident Clinton, even if I happen to agree with Mitchell that the chargesare de minimis and don't warrant an ouster. But that's a matter ofconstitutional interpretation, not evidence.

On Tuesday,Charles Ruff did a make-believe cross-examination of Vernon Jordan, in whichhe 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 witnessesto 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 anAfrican-American?" is totally shameless. Anyone who ends, as Millsdid, with the implication that, since Clinton has been very good for the CivilRights movement, he cannot be held accountable for his crimes, is fundamentallyauthoritarian. And anyone who believes that President Clinton's crackerforebears 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." Aboutthe only person who broke the hushed reverence that followed was Jay Leno, whoremarked that "Dale Bumpers" sounded like the name of some stripperClinton used to consort with. Bumpers began his appalling piece of cracker-barrelpandering by quoting Mencken to the effect that "When somebody says, 'It'snot 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'snot 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 protestationsof a vast right-wing conspiracy are evidence that there's no vast right-wingconspiracy?
Dunn: Put a Fork In Her Noone could look at the horrific response the Republicans aired minutes afterthe State of the Union address and not feel the GOP was doomed. Sending outSteve Largent and Jennifer Dunn was a catastrophe, a reminder that the morethey try to look like Democrats, the more Republicans look out of touch. Republicanleaders looked at Dunn and thought: "soccer mom," "woman,""kinder gentler." The rest of the country looked at this sour, wizenedand angry woman, with the ambition positively incandescing in her eyes, andthought pretty much what most of her Washington colleagues think: "I wouldn'tturn my back on her."
Dunn didn'thelp herself any with the horrific dress she was wearing, which was a shadesomewhere between Ukrainian-national-hockey-team blue, Fisher-Price block-setblue and tv-test-pattern blue. (Perhaps we should just defer to Isaac Mizrahi here, who has called it "lady-politician blue.") There was only onething she could have done to make the situation worse, and she did it: She openedher mouth.

"Nomatter what the outcome of the President's situation," she began,"life in America will go on." It will? What the hell are we doingin 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 someRepublican plan for putting tanks in the streets. Then she identifiedher credentials for being sent up to woo Democratic women. "I'm asingle mother," she chirped. Now, look?Democrats own single mothersbecause 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, meanold rich lady who dumped her first husband just about the time her politicalcareer took off?" Then Dunn went into the inheritance tax?whichshe called the "death tax"?and what to do if your parents aredead. In case the atmosphere wasn't fully created, she told a few anecdotesabout a couple she knew who kept receiving inquiries from the IRS about whetherthe 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 themessage that emerged was: tanks in the streets...Republicans...death...divorce...Republicans...dead parents...Republicans...dead husbands... epublicans...Sieg heil!

All of thiswas made the more exciting, Dunn said, now that she "felt the swirl ofhistory" around her. I'll bet she did. But as Harry Truman used tosay, if you can't stand the swirl of history, get out of the toilet bowl.

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