Next week National Review Online goes to the Democratic National Convention. In fact, I leave for LA first thing tomorrow morning. But even before I arrive, hear a single speech, get lectured by a BMW-driving socialist or — most importantly — have my first mai tai at the LA Trader Vic’s, I can tell you the one thing you need to know: Bill Clinton’s “mistakes” aren’t personal, and Al Gore can be blamed for them.
As everyone knows by now, the President thinks the most fascinating topic in the world is him. Everything about him interests him: how he works so hard; how he’s been unfairly attacked; how he’s risen above the mean-spiritedness of others; how hard it is to be him — but how, in the end, it’s so worthwhile to be him.
The President took his lifetime one-man show to Chicago yesterday — live via satellite! — where he covered all of those bases and more. The appearance has been touted as Mr. Clinton’s effort to let Al Gore off the hook for his administration’s shortcomings while giving him credit for its accomplishments (as I predicted he might do).
“Vice President Gore doesn’t get near enough credit for a lot of the things that I’ve done that he was the main executor on,” Clinton told the audience of ministers.
And, in case you missed it, Clinton hammered it home again (you can always spot the intended message of a politician when they say something like “and the last point I want to make…”).
“And last thing I want to say is, I used to say this about Al Gore all the time, I used to say when I was being criticized, you know, he doesn’t get enough credit for what we did together that is good, and surely no fair-minded person would blame him for any mistake that I made.”
Now, before we get to the real point, I’d like you to notice the subject-predicate of this statement. Clinton is not primarily saying Gore deserves more credit. Rather, Clinton is saying he himself deserves more credit for having said nice things about Gore all along. Remember the pundits have been preaching and the Gore aides have been leaking that Clinton should stop hogging the limelight. So, rather than stop hogging the limelight, Clinton suggests this is an unfair criticism. “I used to say this about Al Gore all the time.” Translation: Get off my back–I have not been hogging the credit. I even said it “when I was being criticized”!
I know this seems like gratuitous nit-picking, and maybe even overreach, but to me it is Bill Clinton’s most grating quality (See Clinton-Hating Explained). He is the issue, he is the standard. One small example: When NPR’s Mara Liasson asked him last year about Gore’s suggestion that he created the Internet, Clinton responded: “Well, you know, he came a lot closer to inventing the Internet than I did.” Ah yes, that was always the yardstick we had in mind.
IT’S NOT PERSONAL, IT’S BUSINESS
Okay, back to the important issues. The spin coming through the media transmission belt these days is that the Bush promise to restore “dignity and honor to the Oval Office” is really a subliminal reference to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. To the Gore campaign’s frustration, Bush and Cheney will not say this outright — which makes it hard to claim it’s an attack. Nevertheless, the Spin Industrial Complex running out of Clinton-Gore HQ is suggesting that the Republicans are trying to tar Gore with the President’s “personal” mistakes. The implication is that the Clinton White House overflowed with dignity and honor before Mr. Clinton’s momentary lap-lapse.
This is Trojan Horse scandal-control on a monstrous scale. Just because the metaphysical tackiness of the Lewinsky scandal was so enormous, so cosmically elephantine, that it bends space and time, does not mean that in comparison it shrinks all that came before it to nothingness. Since day one, the walls of the Oval Office have seen more McDonald’s wrappers and buffalo-wing bones than dignity and honor. Recall that Bob Dole was lamenting “Where’s the outrage!?” two years before anyone had ever heard of Monica Lewinsky. Joe Klein wrote about the “Politics of Promiscuity” in the Spring of 1994. George Stephanopoulos popped bubble gum during White House briefings and defended the President by saying “he kept all the promises he meant to keep,” while Monica Lewinsky was still studying for her college exams. Justice Department officials willingly said that they lied to their own diaries, and notes miraculously appeared — without a signature — in Vince Foster’s briefcase when “Lanny Davis” wasn’t yet a verb and an adjective all at once. The Clinton-Gore administration was renting out the Lincoln bedroom; shaking down Chinese generals; claiming Republicans were burning churches; and smiling as hundreds of people pled the Fifth or fled the country to avoid testifying under oath–long before the President waxed confused about the meaning of “is.”
There was no dignity and honor enshrouding the Oval Office for Billy Dale to see in the rearview mirror of a panel van as he was carted off like a criminal to satisfy administration cronies. No dignity and honor fell to the floor of Air Force One as Christophe clipped the president’s mane, and there was no dignity and honor prompting Al Gore to tell Ward Connerly that Americans are irretrievably racist. The drumbeat of whines about how the White House was just trying to protect “the children” were not the product of integrity, nor was the immediate firing of every U.S. District Attorney in the United States a matter of honor.
And let us not forget that the Lewinsky saga was not “personal.” It was about — among other things — the fact the president lied to the American people and under oath, and then enlisted the powers of his office to cover it up and attack his enemies. Mr. Gore’s candidate for entry into the ranks of America’s greatest presidents invoked executive privilege for supposedly private behavior. He sullied the office and abused the Constitution, and then had the temerity to say that by minting privileges — which would have had the Founding Fathers snorting snuff to keep from fainting — that he “saved” the Constitution by doing so. When asked what it was like to be impeached, he told the young lady reporter who asked him that it was “not bad.” Even now the administration has been lying to a federal judge about the e-mails it has contemptuously refused to produce. Honor, integrity, and the President’s vaunted contrition can’t be found within a mile of reality.
This president and his administration, in the words of Andrew Sullivan, lie about everything from genocide to golf scores. Mr. Gore was perfectly comfortable in this environment, and contributed to it for nearly eight years. And remember that Mr. Gore, too, is an increasingly practiced liar. He has lied about his accomplishments and his intentions. He has lied about being the subject of Love Story and he has lied about facing combat in Vietnam. He has lied about “discovering” Love Canal, about authoring the Superfund law, and about always supporting abortion. He has lied about knowingly taking money from nuns sworn to poverty. And he has said that his iced-tea intake was so voluminous it required him to be out of the room peeing whenever a single incriminating syllable was uttered in his presence.
But, in all fairness, he has not participated in “oral-anal contact” with an intern in the Oval Office, as has his revered boss. And if that is the measure by which we judge whether a man will restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office, than yes, he is just as qualified as George Bush and Dick Cheney. Bill Clinton is right: “Surely no fair-minded person would blame” Al Gore for his boss’s personal mistake.