Compartmentalize This; Do Me a Favor

by Jonah Goldberg

COMPARTMENTALIZE THIS
The Clinton years have created a whole Jeopardy category of words and phrases that will outlast our president’s Trumanesque legacy of school uniforms and handgun trigger locks. Among the words imbued with new meanings and phrases drained of old ones are: “parsing”; “no controlling legal authority”; “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.”; “that allegation is false”; “vast right-wing conspiracy”; “unnamed billing partner”; “protective-function privilege”; “move on with the people’s business”; “sexual McCarthyism”; “failed land deal”; “cigar”; “hmmm, that tastes good”; “stained dress”; “telling the truth slowly”; “Sir, I brought you your pizza”; “two for the price of one”; “the personal is political”; Wag the Dog; “White House intern,” etc.

But the word that wins — hands down — for epitomizing moral relativism and craven political hypocrisy is . . . “compartmentalization.” What does it mean? Well, for the president’s sycophants and apologists, it means that he can be a great president, but a failed man. A consummate liar, but a force for good. A sexual predator, but a champion of women’s rights. As a matter of logic and fact this is indisputable. One can excel at one’s job but fall short elsewhere. (I, for one, am able to watch hours upon hours of television but have no discernable job.)

But compartmentalization is a moral fraud and the Left knows it, although it has been at the core of the Left’s arguements for generations. Witness the current hubbub over the pending lifetime-achievement award for Elia Kazan. In the 1950s, Kazan cooperated with the House Un-American Activities Committee and disclosed his and others’ involvement with the Communist Party. In time he would become as blacklisted as any of the Communists he outed.

Now, a group of former, and not-so-former, Stalin voluptuaries are trying to block the director of On the Waterfront, A Face in the Crowd, and A Streetcar Named Desire from being recognized for his colossal contribution to films and acting. Kazan co-founded the Actors Studio. It is indisputable that Kazan is one of the greatest directors ever. Indeed, he is a far superior director than Clinton is a president. Even his critics concede this, while denouncing the Academy’s compartmentalization. “Okay, Kazan’s a good director,” Bernard Gordon, a leader of the anti-Kazan group, tells today’s Washington Post. “But how does that compare with the enormous damage he did to the industry and to the country . . . by turning on lifelong friends, by destroying careers and livelihood?”

One need not have been a news junkie for the last year to recognize that Kazan is a piker compared to Clinton in the friend-betraying, institution-damaging, career-destroying, and country-dirtying business. But, hey, Clinton is for women’s rights and equal pay. But, wait a second . . . so was Bob Packwood, and yet Patricia Ireland saw fit to throw the Republican senator to the wolves. Look elsewhere. The ever-rabid hypocrisy cops are constantly pointing out that such-and-such conservative moralizer is divorced, had an affair, owns a subscription to Hustler — as if this disqualifies him from speaking out. Why? If Bill Clinton can be an effective and admirable advocate for women’s rights and be at least as much of a pig as Bob Packwood ever was, why can’t Pat Robertson throw cocaine and hooker parties every night? Would anybody marvel at Robertson’s compartmentalization?

Adolf Hitler — and I am not comparing Clinton to Hitler — was a vegetarian and extremely kind to animals. Should PETA and the ASPCA embrace Hitler over Winston Churchill, a notorious hunter and meat eater? Should some crunchy, Birkenstock-wearing tree hugger come out and say, “Well, yes, Hitler had some problems in other parts of his life but he is a strong supporter and advocate of some very important issues.” Should Joey Buttafuoco have gotten off because he was a great mechanic?

What is truly infuriating is that the White House doesn’t believe in compartmentalization for anybody but the president, and even in his case, only selectively. Ken Starr cannot be believed because he is a “tobacco lawyer” — as if he can’t keep tobacco and Clinton’s obstruction separate. Linda Tripp was “disgruntled” and a bad friend, so therefore she’s a liar. Everybody else’s public face is a lie because either their private life or irrelevant aspects of their professional life are politically assailable.

Last night Geraldo, our reigning spokesman for compartmentalization, explained that Juanita cannot be believed because her lawyer is a Republican state senator, because she signed a false affidavit in a civil case, and because Clinton-haters (everybody raise your hand) have been trying to get her to go public. I see. So even though some Republican senator helped her procure a false affidavit by contacting his friend Bruce Lindsey (helping Clinton immeasurably), even though President Clinton has got a drawer full of false affidavits he’s either himself sworn to or encouraged, and even though Broaddrick has brushed off the black-helicopter brigade for two decades, she is not believable. And the president should be allowed to deny through his lawyer — once again — any wrongdoing. Don’t you get it?, the White House asks. He’s compartmentalizing. Everyone else is open to the most mindless dissection for hypocrisy and smearing. But the prez can keep it all separate for the people’s sake.

But then, sometimes, the president stops compartmentalizing. For example, he sought peace in the Middle East, he said, because his recent troubles focused his desire to make amends. But whenever asked if he was distracted by the scandal, he or his flacks would say, “No, of course not.” So which is it? Is the president a “warrior for peace” (or a piece) because of his troubles or is he warrior for peace despite his troubles?

Ironically, the Left has championed the personal as political. The Left has made one’s private life fair game. It was the Left who encouraged the president to sign into law sexual-harassment legislation making a defendant’s private life fair game in sexual-harassment lawsuits. Compartmentalization is not only an affront to the secular relativism of “the personal is political” but also an affront to old-fashioned morality and plain character. For centuries a hallmark of art, literature, film, religion, and fable has been to depict rich and powerful men behaving abysmally in private but admirably in public. These men are invariably the villain. Compartmentalization turns this ancient and morally vital observation on its head. Not only is it okay to be evil in private but good in public — it is admirable.

DO ME A FAVOR
Okay, so today’s file was a bit of a downer. Here’s how you can cheer me up. In Washington there is a newsletter called the Hotline. Washington insiders read it the way Churchill read ULTRA reports during World War II. The Hotline is currently taking nominations for Pat Buchanan’s replacement on CNN’s Crossfire while he’s out in Concord, New Hampshire, building a bridge to the 19th century. This would be the perfect job for yours truly. I could continue writing my column, get to argue with people, and would still be able to walk around the house in my underwear until at least noon. I am, of course, a long shot at best. Age and guile, as P. J. O’Rourke says, beat youth, innocence, and a bad haircut every time. But I can get my hair cut, and I haven’t been innocent since that summer in a Mexican prison. Anyway, if you feel like casting a vote for me please send your vote and a brief sentence as to why yours truly would be good “from the Right.” If you hate my guts, well, do what you gotta do. Either way, the results of the poll come out tomorrow. You can email votes to [email protected] or you can fax it to 703-518-8701.

This may not be the most honest thing in the world to do, but hell, I’m just compartmentalizing.