Politics & Policy

The Big Picture to The Rescue; We’re Moving On Up Already


I’ve been largely alone in arguing for full-blown, knock-down, drag-out “What did the President know and when did he know it?” hearings (I guess “know” in this case would be in the Biblical rather than epistemological sense). Monica Lewinsky, Vernon Jordan, Linda Tripp, Bruce Lindsey — all of them — should be brought before the Judiciary Committee. Alas, this won’t happen. The Republicans want this over and they think a policy of island hopping toward perjury is better than the total war required for proving obstruction of justice, suborning perjury, etc. The White House never thought it would work and so they stiffed the Committee with their contemptuous 81 answers. Operating on the premise, as usual, that saying something makes it so, they pre-spun that there weren’t enough votes in the House to move articles of impeachment. Alas, thanks to the reporting of The Weekly Standard’s Tucker Carlson, and a few others, it turned out that this was bunk by a factor of 10. Instead, of 10 to 40 Republicans refusing to vote for impeachment, there are 1 to 4.

So now the Democrats want to introduce evidence, not testimony from the actual principals of the scandal — that would be too dangerous — but evidence nevertheless. Even so, this is a precarious strategy for the White House. If they introduce exculpating evidence for Clinton, then the Republicans will feel compelled to introduce more incriminating evidence. This cycle may be unstoppable and we might have a race to the bottom of the story. We might find out why Linda Tripp’s and Monica Lewinsky’s testimonies are so different. We might find out who suggested Monica complain so vigorously about her treatment by Ken Starr. We might find out why she has told sources she is not, and never was, mad at the President. We might find out why Betty Currie’s testimony changed over time. We might find out what Bruce Lindsey was hiding with his fraudulent claims of executive privilege.

But even if all this remains a mystery, we can still be encouraged by the fact that the liberal, legal, and media-constructed canard that this is solely about narrow legalisms is being dismantled. It is about right and wrong. Jeff Greenfield, the best media commentator in America, is steadily raising the point that the President’s behavior, legal or not, may be impeachable because it is so reckless. More dramatic has been Christopher Hitchen’s contribution. Riding out of the East on his pale horse, Christopher Hitchens, radical, atheist, despiser of Mother Teresa, is finally making the arguments that most conservatives won’t make. In the current issue of Vanity Fair, Hitchens argues with a devastating comprehensiveness that the President should be removed for his overwhelming abuse of power. The article is being read avidly throughout Washington and New York. To be sure it is a little annoying that a left-winger can make such traction when making arguments which would fall on deaf ears coming from the Right, but so be it. Truth, from any quarter, eventually trumps spin.


Everybody keeps saying we need to put this scandal behind us so the country can get moving again. One Washington elder statesman or another says this at least once per talking-head show. What does this mean? Did this scandal hold up stem-cell research breakthroughs? Did the President’s stonewalling prevent Exxon and Mobil from announcing their merger? Was the World Series called off so we could decipher Betty Currie’s testimony? Was beer not for sale in deference to Monica Lewinsky’s unfortunate weight gain? Did no one die because they didn’t want to miss a moment of scandal coverage and was a single child not born due to a pervasive confusion over what sexual relations “is”?

This country is moving along just fine. Sure, there are problems that the government is ignoring. But it was ignoring most of them when Clinton wasn’t in trouble. This notion that the government, the Federal Government, is the engine of progress in this country is pernicious. In Democratic Republics the government is a very tiny part of our lives. Or at least it should be.

Don’t get me wrong. Bill Clinton has derailed the government and whatever might be called the “national agenda.” The scandal has fascinated the media like a pot roast just out of reach of the family dog. The American justice system has become profoundly politicized. Metaphysically, tacky sexual behavior — and lying about it — has become, in Arthur Schlesinger’s phrase, gentlemanly. Many further along the ideological spectrum than Schlesinger have extolled Clinton and lionized his wife for their perseverance in the face of the “sex cops.” Bill Clinton should be held accountable for that. His lies and obfuscation have been an abuse of power. It helps both sides to exaggerate the effects of this scandal. My crowd gets to say Bill Clinton has done irreparable damage to the nation simply by stonewalling. This alleviates concentration on the underlying crimes. The other side gets to argue that we’ve already “wasted enough time” on this scandal and the President’s embarrassment is punishment enough.

But let’s not for the sake of the anti- or pro-Clinton arguments make the case that a distracted Washington elite translates into a total standstill of American life. America is better than that.


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