CLINTON, CONTEMPT & CLASS Anatole France famously observed that “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”
It’s one of my favorite quotes — even though the guy’s last name is “France” — and it popped into my head dozens of times during the impeachment saga. After all, one could replace “rich” with “the President of the United States” and switch “any two-bit crack head” for “poor.” Drop “beg in the streets” or “steal bread” for “lie under oath” or “obstruct justice” and the point remains the same. The law is the law is the law. Morality and law are not the same thing. It may be moral to steal bread for your starving family. It is not legal.
So anyway, Anatole’s line about the “majestic equality” of the law popped back in my head when I read about Judge Susan Webber Wright’s decision to hold Bill Clinton in civil contempt for his “intentionally false” testimony. It seems Judge Wright thinks the president is a liar and perjurer — just like those hate-filled House managers.
But, alas, the “majestic equality” of the law is no longer the issue. The president got away with breaking the law. I have no doubt about that — and the number of people I know on the Left or Right who doubt it can be counted on one hand. It’s annoying, but it’s an irreversible fact as far as I am concerned. Whether the law remains majestic or not, time will tell.
My guess is, it will. Bill Clinton spit on the law, but sometimes spit is very useful as polish. Americans like equality under the law and they will use this episode, I hope, to burnish that principle rather than bury it.
But there is the issue of class and integrity. Neither are equally distributed in society. Some people have it. Some don’t. In this last year, the president demonstrated that he doesn’t. Most, and I do mean most, of his defenders exhausted their supply of integrity to dangerously low levels to defend either a man who didn’t deserve it or a cause they manufactured out of so much sophistry and chutzpah. Some just ran out of class entirely, like Alan Dershowitz and William Ginsburg. That, it seems to me, has always been the source of Clinton’s greatest damage — the way he drains honor and principle out of honorable and principled people.
Some of Clinton’s defenders — even some of his most ardent ones — emerged from the last year with their integrity intact. I think Greg Craig is probably an honorable man. Charles Ruff too. Julian Epstein, the minority counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, showed more class than almost every one of his bosses on the Committee. In the year I spent arguing with people on television and off about all of this crap, I think Epstein was the only one from the other side who ever wanted or tried to deal directly and honestly with the facts of the case.
I’m not sure he’d be delighted to hear that from me, since I think the person with the most class in this whole sorry episode is Ken Starr. Starr is testifying today to get rid of the independent counsel statute. He thinks it’s unconstitutional and even though it lends weight to some of his more absurd critics, he’s sticking to his guns. I’ve never met the man, but I’ve got to say I’m proud of him. He’s got class.
STICK A FORK IN HIM: HE’S DUNNE What got me thinking about all of this is Dominick Dunne’s response to yesterday’s Goldberg File. He talked to Jeannette Walls on “Scoop,” MSNBC’s gossip page. Yesterday, I hit him pretty hard. He responded “Almost everything he says is true.” But he says I’m just a “momma’s boy enjoying his moment in the sun.” He also says what my mom did was “evil.”
First, I have never apologized for or regretted defending my mother’s actions and I don’t see why I should stop now. If you don’t like her tactics, I can understand that, but she never lied about what she did and she did expose something that some people might call “evil.”
But second, what a pissy response. I mean, I know I started it, but come on. Dunne owes his career to the loving memory of his murdered daughter and to his rage at the injustice of it. It seems familial loyalty is not where his critique should start. Besides, look who the man is defending. When not writing treacly suck-ups to glam culture and himself, Dunne has spent twenty years rightly denouncing violent crimes, especially against women, and the system that lets criminals get off too easily. Dunne is apparently untroubled by Juanita Broaddrick, but according to his Vanity Fair article, he is concerned that the President might have stained the rug of the Oval Office when he stained Monica’s dress. Talk about disproportionate outrage. Is he angry with Milosevic for not separating his newspapers and aluminum cans from the rest of the trash?
And as for my “moment in the sun,” hell, I’m so pale these days I look like I’ve been handcuffed to the radiator in the basement for the last three months.
I’m not shocked that he isn’t a regular reader — I don’t write about eating Chilean sea bass over fennel with Barbra too much. But this is the first time in months I’ve even written about the impeachment. What made me do it is his repeated distortions about his “role” in this scandal and his smug and spurious assertions that he “broke off” his friendship with my mom over Linda’s taping. He didn’t care about the taping and he didn’t break off the friendship.
AND IN THE NEWS TODAY. . . A word about format. The “suits” in New York have changed the e-mail subscription procedures. I was, as George Bush might say, out of the loop. Apparently, people in central command want you guys to come on down to the website. So, you’re going to be teased about the contents of the Goldberg File by e-mail. If you hate the system, please don’t blame me. And don’t tell me about it either — tell them. And hey, while you’re at it, tell them to give me a raise.